Excessive energy drinks harmful to mental health, study warns

Youngsters who drink lots have an increased risk of anxiety, stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts, researchers from Teesside University and Newcastle University have revealed.

High consumption is also linked to increased risky behaviours such as substance use, violence, and unsafe sex, as well as poor academic performance, sleep problems, and unhealthy dietary habits.

Lead author Amelia Lake, Professor of Public Health Nutrition from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health at Teesside University, said: “Energy drinks are marketed to children and young people as a way to improve energy and performance, but our findings suggest that they are actually doing more harm than good.”

“We have raised concerns about the health impacts of these drinks for the best part of a decade after finding that they were being sold to children as young as 10-years-old for as little as 25p. That is cheaper than bottled water.”

“The evidence is clear that energy drinks are harmful to the mental and physical health of children and young people as well as their behaviour and education. We need to take action now to protect them from these risks.”

Many shops already stop under-16s from buying the drinks, which can be high in caffeine, sugar and other stimulants.

A 500ml can of Monster energy has as much caffeine as four espressos and the equivalent of 13 teaspoons of sugar.

A 500ml can of Relentless has the same amount of caffeine as a can of Monster energy, and the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar.

A can of Red Bull, at just 250ml, has the same amount of caffeine as two espressos, and the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar.

There are now calls amongst campaigners and scientists for the Government to “step up and deliver” on its 2019 commitment to impose a blanket ban on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.

William Roberts, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “This important review adds to the growing evidence that energy drinks can be harmful to children and young people’s physical and mental health, both in the short and long-term.”

“That’s why we need the UK Government to step up and deliver on its 2019 commitment to ban sales of energy drinks to under 16s.”

“In doing so it would not only be following the evidence, but also following the example of countries that have already restricted sales to children, a move supported by the majority of the public.”

Previous research had found that up to a third of children in the UK consume caffeinated energy drinks on a weekly basis and that young people in the UK were the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group.

Professor Amelia Lake was involved in a national campaign, fronted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, to restrict the sale of energy drinks to teenagers, and gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on the effects of energy drinks on young people’s mental and physical health at the time.

In response, many large UK supermarkets subsequently agreed to ban the sale of energy drinks to children.

A number of countries have attempted to regulate energy drinks, including bans on sales to under 18s in Lithuania and Latvia.

The UK government ran a consultation on ending the sale of energy drinks to children in England and also proposed this in their 2019 green paper ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’.

While 93 per cent of respondents to the consultation supported restricting sales to under 16s, there has been no further action.

In 2022, the devolved government in Wales launched its own consultation to ban the sales of energy drinks to under 16s.

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