Just how bad are energy drinks for children?

Some of the most popular brands sold in the UK.

The government has announced that there could be a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.

This comes as another measure to tackle the growing childhood obesity crisis in the UK.

According to No. 10, more than two-thirds of 10-17 year-olds and a quarter of six to nine year olds consume energy drinks.

We went out onto the high street to see for ourselves exactly what these drinks contain.

Why are energy drinks such a concern?

One of the main concerns about energy drinks is the amount of caffeine they contain.

“Popular brands like Red Bull, Monster etc. have more than 150 mg of caffeine in one can,” Dr Preethi Daniel, clinical director at London Doctors Clinic, tells Yahoo. 

According to the European Food Safety Authority, “daily intakes of caffeine up to 3mg/kg body weight do not raise safety concerns.”

Canada, on the other hand, has set a safe limit for children at around 45 mg of caffeine a day (that is just one can of fizzy cola).

Compare that to a normal 180ml cup of coffee, which contains about 70–140 mg of caffeine.

Another worry is that the energy drinks are incredibly cheap; a Red Bull costs £1.29, while Sainsbury’s own brand is only 60p.

This means that children can buy them with their own pocket money and not have to tell their parents.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug.

“While caffeine stimulates wakefulness and alertness, too much of it can have detrimental effects such as tremors, insomnia and increased heart rate. Caffeine is absorbed by every single system in the body. It affects stomach acids causing indigestion too.” Dr Daniel explains.

“Similarly, the higher the dose, the more dependent one becomes and subsequently, more tolerant too.”

What are the effects of caffeine in children?

In 2014, it became a legal necessity to print the warning label on highly caffeinated drinks.

Despite these warning labels, it has had little impact in deterring children from drinking them.

Emma Brown MSc (Human Nutrition), nutritionist for calorie tracking App, Nutracheck, tells Yahoo: “There is no nutritional value of the addition of caffeine into children’s diets.

“Although most evidence looking into the effect of caffeine is not specifically in children, caffeine can lead to increased risk of anxiety, panic attacks and increased blood pressure (NHS Choice).

“There is also some evidence of a link between caffeine (and in particular caffeine withdrawal) and headaches and irritability.

“More worryingly in children, the disturbed sleep caused by the stimulant properties of caffeine has been linked to a range of negative health consequences including weight gain.

“Children require more sleep than adults, and this is vitally important for healthy growth and development.”

Dr Daniel agrees with many of these areas, acknowledging that whilst there is a “lack of evidence and data on effects of caffeine on the physiology and psychology of children… some studies that have shown nervousness, increased blood pressure and withdrawal of caffeine has been shown to cause headaches and fatigue in children.”

Additionally, she states that: “As the adolescent brain is at its final stage of development, laying down eating patterns and taste preferences, encouraging high sugar drinks or caffeine drinks establishes an unhealthy link to obesity and poor development in youths.”

What’s in the future for energy drinks?

Some supermarkets have already implemented changes such as making sure the consumer is  over 16 when buying energy drinks.

Dr Daniel wholly agrees with the ban, stating: “A ban is a good idea as obesity is a major challenge to society at the moment.

“Parents who are aware their children are drinking this high caffeine, high sugar energy drinks ought to have a chat with their children about the detrimental effects and educate them on making healthier choices.”

On the other hand, Emma notes that: “A ban on selling energy drinks to under 16s or under 18s may help to reduce their consumption in this age group; however, banning a product can make it more attractive to teenagers in particular.

“Unfortunately, energy drinks are just one piece of a complex, and multifactorial health and obesity crisis in the UK, so any ban must be included as part of a wider educational piece on healthy diet and lifestyle.”

Energy drinks: Compare and contrast

We went to the local shops to pick out some of the most popular brands.

Here’s what we found. All measurements are per 100ml:

Relentless Energy is owned by the Coca-Cola company.


Caffeine: 32mg
Calories: 22kcal
Sugar: 4.8g

Rockstar also brews alcoholic energy drinks.

Rockstar (Mixed Berries):

Caffeine: 32mg
Calories: 6kcal
Sugar: 0.9g

Monster has 34 different brands under the label.


Caffeine: 32mg
Calories: 47kcal
Sugar: 11g

Carabao is a Thai energy drink and sponsors the EFL cup (now known as the Carabao Cup)


Caffeine: 32mg
Calories: 19kcal
Sugar: 4.5g

Red Bull is an Austrian invention that currently holds the  highest market share of any energy drink in the world.

Red Bull:

Caffeine: 32mg
Calories: 46kcal
Sugar: 11g

Pink Bolt, the only supermarket brand on the list.

Pink Bolt:

Caffeine: 30mg
Calories: 3.2kcal
Sugar: <0.5g

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