High levels of sugar, calories and caffeine together with “excessive” portion sizes have led to renewed calls for a ban on selling energy drinks to under-16s.
Action on Sugar assessed the nutritional information on energy drinks available in nine major UK retailers and one convenience store.
The research, published in the journal BMJ Open, showed the number of products (per serving) available on the market fell from 90 to 59 between 2015 and 2017.
However, sugar, calorie and caffeine content remain at “concerning high levels”, with 78% of products exceeding the maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake for a child aged 7–10 years (24g, equivalent to six teaspoons of sugar). In 2015 the figure was 86%.
In the same period, there has been a 10% reduction in sugar – from 10.6g to 9.5g per 100ml – and a 6% drop in calorie content. This shows that some manufacturers have started to reformulate before the Soft Drinks Industry Levy comes in to force in April.
However, the team also found that typical serving sizes of energy drinks are larger than other sugar-sweetened drinks, at an “excessive” 500 ml. The average sugar content in energy drinks in both 2015 and 2017 (per serving) was “more than an adult’s entire maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake in the UK”.
The drinks are “completely inappropriate” for children and “should be banned for under-16s”, said Graham MacGregor, co-author of the study and professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London.
Last year, Action on Sugar called for a “voluntary code” to restrict sales of the drinks to under-16s.
Lithuania and Latvia have introduced bans on selling energy drinks to under-18s.