The junior Health Minister has said the UK’s energy drink consumption is “50% higher” than our European counterparts, as plans are revealed to ban the high-caffeine drinks to children.
The restrictions will apply to drinks with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre, like popular brands Red Bull, Monster and Relentless.
Excessive consumption has been linked to a host of health and behaviour problems in children, from headaches to hyperactivity.
Joining Julia Hartley-Brewer on talkRADIO, the junior Health Minister Steve Brine said children are not drinking the energy drinks in “moderation”.
“They’re not doing it in moderation, this is the first consultation that we’ve announced off the back of the child obesity plans chapter two that we launched just before the summer recess,” he said.
“So we know that 2 in 3 in this 10-17 bracket are drinking energy drinks. We know that our consumption is 50% more than our European counterparts."
'65% more sugar than other regular soft drinks'
The Child Obesity plans introduced the sugar tax earlier in the year that put a levy on drinks with a high concentration of sugar.
“It might be a funny place to put this in the child obesity plan but it’s not when you consider that some of these energy drinks contain exceptionally high levels of sugar, so about 65% more sugar than other regular soft drinks,
“So, there’s the sugar element to that and why it’s in the obesity plan, and the diabetes challenge which is huge, and of course the other health impacts around that.
“And that’s before you even move onto caffeine, and all the impacts that we understand from the teachers profession that it’s having in the classroom.”
Many major retailers already refuse to sell to under-16s but the Government intends to introduce a blanket ban under plans put out for consultation, with restrictions on either under-18s or under-16s being considered.
The issue has come under scrutiny recently owing to a booming energy drinks market, high-profile calls from campaigners and figures like TV chef Jamie Oliver, and the low cost of some types compared with general soft drinks.
Four cans of generic 250ml energy drink can be bought for as little as £1, for example.
While many major retailers do not sell to under-16s, just 21% of the UK grocery market, including corner shops, is signed up to voluntary restrictions, No 10 said.
Julia asked whether it would be better to educate parents on the high levels of sugar in these drinks, rather than just banning everything.
“I think it’s all of that,” he said.
“There’s government action, then it’s about parental guidance and education of parents, and education of children.
“The amount of media coverage this has had today, I hope a lot of parents are hearing this and thinking ‘crikey, there’s a lot of sugar in these products’.
Brine went on to say that he doesn’t believe many people really know just what ingredients are going into these drinks.
“I don’t think many people do know,” he added.
“And then of course there’s the business and social responsibility element of it.
“Now, these drinks, they’re already labelled that they’re not recommended for children, but we know that more than two thirds of adolescents are drinking them.”