Energy drinks are booming, fuelled not least by the arrival of Prime.
The viral brand has punched its way into young people’s hearts and wallets, thanks to streetwise marketing from Logan Paul and KSI across a swathe of music, youth and sports channels. It’s signed deals with leading European footballing teams Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and US baseball team the LA Dodgers.
The brand includes a Hydration range and an Energy lineup, which contains 140mg of caffeine per 330ml can. It’s the latter – and the energy drinks of its ilk – that provides cause for concern.
This week, a new comprehensive evidence review from Fuse, the centre for Translational Research in Public Health at Teesside University, revealed the effects of energy drinks consumption for young people are even more wide-ranging than previously understood. Sleep problems, poor academic performance and association with anxiety, depression and increased risk of ADHD were all highlighted in a quite frankly alarming review of 57 studies covering more than 1.2 million children.
It’s been over four years since the government pledged to ban the sale of energy drinks to children under 16, following extensive public consultation in which 93% of respondents backed the measure. Our own parent and teacher surveys overwhelmingly backed government regulation to stop shopkeepers selling these drinks to children, who often buy them on their way to and from school. The measures have also been backed by major retailers, which have implemented their own voluntary sales restrictions, as a means of creating a level playing field.
In short, nearly all agree that where a product is required to carry a warning label saying ‘not suitable for children’, it makes sense to restrict direct sale to them. The British soft drinks Association’s own voluntary code says high-caffeine energy drinks are not recommended for children, and that the marketing of such drinks should not be directly to those under 16. At the time of the government announcement, both they and the British Retail Consortium welcomed the move.
Yet nothing has happened. Four years is a very long time in the life of a child, such as the pupil from Milton Primary School in Newport who last year suffered a “cardiac episode” and had to have their stomach pumped after consuming Prime Energy drinks, according to a warning letter sent to parents of pupils at the school.
Instead, it appears long-promised energy drinks regulation is simply being ignored. The stock answer to parliamentary questions about energy drinks is that the government will publish the outcome of its consultation “in due course”. That’s effectively a political shrug. Civil servants at the Department for Health only work on topics prioritised by ministers, and ministers are failing to put it on the to-do list.
That’s why this week, we and 40 other health experts and organisations have written again to government ministers calling on them to honour their pledge to act. That starts with publishing the government’s consultation response. We’ve also called on the shadow health team to get behind the case for regulation.
Will the current public health minister Andrea Leadsom be the one to inject a bit of energy back into protecting child health? Will the opposition start to hold the government’s feet to the energy drinks fire? Let’s watch this space.