MPs have ruled out statutory ban on sale of energy drinks to children
Experts advising the government have said there is not enough scientific evidence to warrant a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.
Critics said they were disappointed not to see a recommendation for a ban.
The House of Commons Science and Technology committee found that current quantitative evidence alone was not sufficient to warrant a statutory ban.
The committee sought to understand whether the caffeine in energy drinks had a negative health and behavioural effect on young people and if the sale of energy drinks to under-16s should be banned.
However, after reviewing a range of qualitative evidence, such as the experiences of teachers, the committee welcomed voluntary action taken by schools, retailers and local communities that could reduce energy drink consumption among children. And it noted young kids also consumer caffeine from tea, coffee, Coca-Cola and chocolate.
It also acknowledged that the current voluntary ban implemented by a number of retailers amplified the message that energy drinks were associated with negative health, behavioural and dietary effects.
‘Concerns over sugar levels’
A number of big supermarkets already ban their sale to under-16s due to concerns over the levels of sugar and caffeine in them.
In August the government launched a public consultation into whether to make it illegal to sell energy drinks to children. Theresa May called for a block citing obesity, tooth decay, hyperactivity and focus concerns.
Young people in the UK are the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group.
Chairman of the cross-party committee, Norman Lamb, said they had heard a range of concerns which ‘varied from a lack of concentration in the classroom and hyperactivity, to the effects on physical health.’
He added it was ‘clear from the evidence we received that disadvantaged children are consuming energy drinks at a higher rate than their peers.’
But the committee found there was ‘insufficient evidence’ as to whether children’s consumption habits are significantly different for energy drinks than for other caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee.
The MPs did find drinking energy drinks correlated with young people engaging in other risky behaviours such as drinking alcohol and smoking, but said it wasn’t “possible to determine whether there is any causal link”.
Up to 14 teaspoons of sugar
The British Dental Association has expressed dismay that government advisors have concluded there is insufficient evidence to warrant a ban on sale of energy drinks to children.
Even though several brands reformulated in advance of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, several brands including sector leaders Monster still contain up to 14 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving – more than twice the recommended daily allowance for younger children.
Forty-six percent of 15-year-olds had obvious experience of tooth decay in the last national survey. The acidity of these drinks is also a major contributor to dental erosion, which affects up to 44% of children aged 15.
Products are currently required to carry a warning label that they are ‘not suitable for children’. The BDA believes that energy drinks should not be available for children to buy.
‘Dentists see the devastating impact energy drinks are having on children’s oral health every day,’ commented the BDA chair Mick Armstrong.
‘It is bizarre we are still having this debate over products that are habit forming, highly acidic and can come laced with 14 teaspoons of sugar – far more than a can of coke.
‘No PR blitzes or tokenistic reformulations can distract from the fact industry cynically views children as a target market for these drinks. If the government is even half serious about prevention they will take them off the menu,’ he added.