Energy drinks not fit for kids

Avoid products high in sugar and caffeine, says Helen O’Callaghan

OVER SWEET: Some beverages on the market contain up to 17 spoons of sugar. Picture: iStock
OVER SWEET: Some beverages on the market contain up to 17 spoons of sugar. Picture: iStock

Ireland is close to the very top of energy drink consumption compared to other EU countries.

Latest market research shows a 3.4% increase between 2015 and 2018 in volume of energy drinks sold across supermarkets, convenience stores and discount shops. This translates to 26.7m litres consumed annually — equal to every person in Ireland drinking 5.5 litres of energy drinks per year.

On the positive side, there has been an average decrease of two teaspoons of sugar across a range of energy drinks since the introduction last year of the Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax. But only one of the leading energy drink brands reduced sugar content. The other two made no move to cut sugar — so some brands still contain 14-17 teaspoons.

Aside from the rise in number of energy drink products for sale — from 39 to 42 — there has also been a big rise in drinks sold in larger containers (500ml), from eight in 2015 to 16 in 2019. The number of drinks sold in 250ml servings is unchanged.

Safefood chief specialist in nutrition, Dr Marian O’Reilly says parents see energy drinks as another fizzy drink, not realising they can be higher in sugar and also have a high caffeine content. “It’s encouraging to see the fall in average sugar content of these products. However, caffeine contents appear to have increased. When we ask parents if they’d give their child a cup of coffee, they say no — yet one serving of an energy drink contributes more caffeine than an espresso.”

Sugary drinks are linked with poor dental health. “People tend to sip these drinks over a longer time — more damaging than if you down a drink in one go,” says O’Reilly. They also lead to excess weight, which can result in chronic disease like type 2 diabetes. “It’s not good for children to have a habit of something so sweet,” said O’Reilly, adding that caffeine side effects in adults include headache and sleep disturbance and these would be similar for children.

Pointing out energy drinks are bright, colourful and at eye-level in some supermarkets, O’Reilly says children are going to be attracted to them. “It’s a concern that they’re cheap, readily available, in large containers and marketed in a way that’s appealing to young people. But these drinks are not suitable for children — water and milk are the drinks parents should offer instead.”

And with their often-high sugar and caffeine content, O’Reilly urges over-16s too to consider energy drinks as an occasional drink only.

Fact file

  • 2013 energy drinks report found 68% of adolescents consume energy drinks, with 12% of them chronic daily consumers
  • Safefood’s recent survey found average caffeine content of all energy drinks increased from 90mg to 106mg per serving (espresso cup has 80mg) between 2015-2019
  • 2016 report found regular energy drink consumption linked with adverse health symptoms

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