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Sales of energy drinks to children to be banned in England under government plan

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3741 (Published 30 August 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3741
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The UK government has proposed banning the sale of energy drinks in England to anyone under the age 18 amid growing fears about their effects on children’s health.

A public consultation launched on Thursday 30 August sets out plans to make it illegal for retailers to sell drinks containing high levels of sugar and caffeine to children, given their links to obesity, toothy decay, and other health problems.1 The ban would apply to drinks containing 150 mg or more of caffeine per litre.

The consultation is the latest phase of the government’s childhood obesity plan, which set out a commitment to halve the prevalence of childhood obesity by 2030. Ministers are seeking views on what age the ban should be applied to but said that options included banning the sale to those under 16 or under 18.

Research published in BMJ Open last year found that the average caffeine content in energy drinks was around 300 mg per litre.2 The research also showed that the average sugar content in an energy drink was more than the maximum daily recommended sugar intake in the UK for adults (30 g).

The public health minister, Steve Brine, said, “We all have a responsibility to protect children from products that are damaging to their health and education, and we know that drinks packed to the brim with caffeine, and often sugar, are becoming a common fixture of their diet.

“Our children already consume 50% more of these drinks than our European counterparts, and teachers have made worrying links between energy drinks and poor behaviour in the classroom.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Brine said, “We want a wide range of opinions. It’s a genuine consultation, and I’d say to parents, the public, doctors, and teachers, please take part.”3

Existing laws on food labelling stipulate that soft drinks with more than 150 mg of caffeine per litre must carry a warning about the high level of caffeine. And the products are not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breast feeding.

But the government has opted to take tougher action. The prime minister said, “Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges this country faces, and that’s why we are taking significant action to reduce the amounts of sugar consumed by young people and to help families make healthier choices.”

Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said, “There is no evidence that energy drinks have any nutritional value or place in the diet of children and young people. It’s therefore worrying that so many young people are buying these drinks at low prices and consuming them on a regular basis.

“The growing market for energy drinks and potential for harm to children and young people clearly warrants further scrutiny. That’s why we’re pleased to see the government take action on this and other measures to tackle childhood obesity and improve children’s health.”

The consultation will close on 21 November.

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