Poorly regulated energy drinks could cause harm to young people

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning that high-caffeine energy drinks are being consumed by young people and children and this could result in a huge future health problem.

Researchers found that many of these drinks’ marketing campaigns are targeting children, who are more susceptible to the harmful effects of caffeine.

Unlike alcohol and tobacco, energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull are not restricted for sale to children and young people.

Health experts have previously issued warning about the dangers of these drinks, some of which contain the same levels of caffeine as a cup of coffee, but are normally consumed at a quicker pace, which increases the risk of caffeine intoxication.

Caffeine intoxication could result in high blood pressure, convulsions, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, and in some rare cases, death.

In Europe, one third of adults, one fifth of children and more than two thirds of adolescents consume energy drinks. A recent survey undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) indicated that while this accounts for only 8% of the adult caffeine consumption, 43% of the caffeine children consume is obtained from energy drinks. The survey found that 70% of 18 to 29-year-olds who consume energy drinks use it as a mixer with alcohol.

A number of deaths have been linked to energy drinks in the last few years. High caffeine doses are able to disturb the heart’s rhythm, which is very dangerous for anyone with an underlying heart ailment.

Despite the health warnings and concerns, the energy drinks market is exploding in Britain. Currently, around 500m litres of these drinks are consumed on an annual basis, compared to 375m litres four years ago.

Researchers at the WHO said regulations should be introduced to prevent harm to young people, including the limitation of the amount of caffeine allowed per single serving. They have also asked for regulation to restrict the labelling and sales of these drinks to children and adolescents. They stated that healthcare professionals should be informed about the symptoms and risks related to high consumption of energy drinks.

The British Soft Drinks Association, which is the representative of UK producers of bottled water, fruit juices, soft drinks and energy drinks, stated that caffeinated energy drinks which are sold in the UK are safe and have received clearance from regulators.

The director general of the group, Gavin Partington, said that the study done by the WHO had assessed a number of scientific papers which they thought were relevant, but did not consider the conclusions of other scientific articles.

He said that many of the policy recommendations which have been made are already established via the British Soft Drinks Association’s EU regulation and voluntary code. He added that energy drinks normally contain 80mg of caffeine per 250ml which is equal to that of a cup of coffee.

Image Credit: Alex Garcia

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