Anna Turley MP: Ban the sale of energy drinks to under 16s
Ahead of her Westminster Hall debate on the sale of energy drinks to children, Anna Turley calls for a complete ban of the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.
To many the sight of a child drinking a can of energy drink would not be unusual. In the last ten to fifteen years there has been an explosion in the popularity of these drinks, particularly among young people. However, many children and parents may not be aware of the health risks of regularly consuming these drinks. You only have to turn the can over to see the warning “not recommended for children”, so why are we allowing our young people to drink these highly caffeinated drinks without any protections?
That is the question I asked myself after watching Jamie Oliver’s ‘Friday Night Feasts’. The programme investigated the dangers and prevalence of children regularly drinking these drinks. I was shocked. A massive 68% of those aged between ten and eighteen said they were consumers of energy drinks, with 12% of those saying they drank as much as one litre of energy drinks per session. Just to put that into perspective a litre of energy drink can contain the equivalent caffeine of 5 shots of espresso, and even more shockingly, can be purchased for as little as 79p. There are currently no protections or measures to limit the amount of these drinks a child can purchase. This is a danger to young people and is something that needs to be addressed. In my area of Teesside earlier this year a 16 year-old child was allowed to purchase 12 cans of energy drink from a single store. He then went on to down 5-6 cans in a single sitting, the equivalent to approximately 7 shots of espresso, he did this as he felt he needed a boost to get through a work session at college.
Studies have already shown the damage that regularly drinking these highly-caffeinated drinks can have on young people’s health. Increased caffeine consumption in children and adolescents has been shown to cause increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances, headaches and stomach aches.
Whilst these drink are not always specifically marketed to target children, they are appealing to them nonetheless. The drinks are often sold for as little as 30p and packaging sometimes contain marketing techniques such as video game rewards. Studies have also found that children perversely associate these sometimes unhealthy drinks, with sporting activities. With many of the larger energy drink manufacturers sponsoring extreme-sports events or major occasions such as the Carabao Cup, they are also often associated with children’s favourite sports or a general culture of risk-taking behaviour.
Many larger retailers such as Tesco, Waitrose, and Boots, as well as over half of independent convenience retailers have already taken the step of prohibiting the sale of energy drinks to children under 16. Whilst I welcome this, I do not believe that it is enough. There are still thousands of local retailers where children can purchase these cheap, highly caffeinated drinks, often for cheaper than a bottle of water. I hope my debate on Tuesday will be an opportunity for the Government to put on record their commitment to protecting children from the risks of high caffeine intake and commit to a complete ban on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.
The Government needs to take tough and decisive action to tackle the current childhood diet and obesity crisis in the UK. They have already taken some important and needed measures, such as the introduction of the ‘sugar tax’. However, changing attitudes towards sugar in the last 5-10 years means that some energy drink manufacturers have already produced ‘diet’ or sugar free alternatives to their standard drinks, this does nothing to deal with the problem of the large amounts of caffeine in the drinks. I am joining with health professionals, teachers, parents and health campaigners like Jamie Oliver in calling for a complete ban of the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.
Anna Turley is Labour MP for Redcar.