Ask the Dentist: Public consultation on banning energy drinks for kids is welcome

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says energy drinks are likely to contribute to obesity and tooth decay in children

Do you think the law should be changed to prevent children from buying energy drinks that contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre?
Lucy Stock

LAST week the British government announced the first of a series of consultations as a result of the long-awaited Chapter 2 of the childhood obesity plan which outlines a series of measures as well as a commitment to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

The public will be able to say if they think the law should be changed to prevent children from buying energy drinks that contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.

Excessive consumption of these drinks has been linked to headaches, sleep problems, severe tooth destruction, stomach aches and hyperactivity. Surveys from teachers' unions have also suggested that they contribute to poor behaviour in classrooms.

This proposal has the full support of Action on Sugar, which has been calling for a ban since 2015.

One 250ml can of energy drink contains around 80mg of caffeine – the equivalent of nearly three cans of cola. Some energy drinks also contain exceptionally high levels of sugar – on average, they have 60 per cent more calories and 65 per cent more sugar than other regular soft drinks. With more than two thirds of 10-to-17-year-olds and a quarter of six-to-nine-year-olds consuming energy drinks, they are likely to be contributing to both obesity and tooth decay in children.

Adolescents in the UK who drink energy drinks consume around 50 per cent more than their counterparts in the rest of Europe – evidence of the extent of the problem that we face. One of the reasons energy drinks are so appealing to children is that they are often cheaper than other soft drinks – in some outlets it is possible to buy four 250ml cans of energy drink for £1.

While the drinks are already banned for sale to children by many major retailers, they do remain readily available in some retailers, including in vending machines and independent convenience stores. In the UK grocery market, including corner shops, only 21 per cent of locations are signed up to the voluntary restrictions.

Kawther Hashem, Nutritionist and Researcher at Action on Sugar says: "We are delighted that the consultation is proposing a ban that would apply to drinks which contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre – something which Action on Sugar first called for in 2015.

"Although some energy drinks manufacturers have already reduced sugar to avoid the sugar tax, the huge can and bottle sizes (500ml) means youngsters are still consuming far too much unnecessary sugar and caffeine.

"It's clear that further reductions in both sugar and caffeine are urgently needed, and that they should get rid of large serving sizes which are completely inappropriate for children to consume, form no part of a healthy balanced diet, and should be banned for under-16s.”

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