Tighter controls are needed to prevent children consuming high-caffeine energy drinks, a leading nutritional expert has warned. Professor Mike Lean, an expert in nutrition, from the University of Glasgow, has said children should be banned from buying highly-caffeinated drinks in the same way that they are unable to purchase alcohol.
Research from the European Food Safety Agency suggests more than two-thirds of 10 to 18-year-olds in the UK have consumed high-caffeine energy drinks – this is despite manufacturers’ representatives’ guidelines stating young people should not be drinking them at all.
Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system. The effects of too much caffeine, both for adults and children, include an increased heart rate, reduced concentration and difficulty sleeping. There are also concerns about the cumulative effects of caffeine on young brains that are still immature. Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical stimulant called trimethylxanthine. It is a psychoactive drug that is similar to other stimulants such as nicotine and cocaine.
Current industry guidelines state under-16s should not consume drinks with a caffeine level of 150mg per litre or more
“If we’re serious about recognising the potential hazard of high-caffeine drinks for children, then we should certainly be putting obstacles in the way of children getting them,” says Professor Lean. “For example, a child going into a shop to buy alcohol is forbidden because it is bad for them and they are not permitted to drink it. Perhaps the same sort of approach should be used for highly-caffeinated drinks.”
Current industry guidelines state under-16s should not consume drinks with a caffeine level of 150mg per litre or more. Drinks that contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must be labelled with the term ‘high caffeine content’ in the same field of vision as the product name.
Speaking to BBC Scotland Investigates, Gavin Partington of the British Soft Drinks Association, the body representing manufacturers, said: “Well, our guidelines are very clear. The guidelines relate to products that contain high caffeine content, that is over 150 milligrams per litre of product, and they stipulate that they should not be sold to or consumed by children. So, it’s a clear form of guidance, and we hope as many people as possible will bear that in mind when looking at these products.”
Last year, Caffeine Nation, a BBC Scotland programme, looked at whether children are being encouraged to consume energy drinks by marketing surrounding high-profile extreme sports. During a visit to the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Fort William, Scotland, the documentary team witnessed several children drinking Monster, an energy drink sponsoring the event. One can of Monster contains around 160mg of caffeine.
In a statement to BBC Scotland, Monster’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Guy Carling, said: “While our company is not a member of the British Soft Drinks Association, certain of our policies mirror theirs in that we do not sample our products to persons under 16 years of age. Additionally, all of our cans carry a warning that they are not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or people that are sensitive to caffeine.” Monster stated they would seek appropriate action if they found a violation of their policies had occurred.