Safefood, the all-island authority on food safety and nutrition, found a standard bottle of one popular brand contained 16 teaspoons of sugar and more caffeine than a shot of espresso while another had 13 teaspoons of sugar and two espressos worth of caffeine.
The organisation says it is worried about how much of these drinks are being consumed, particularly by young people, and wants retailers to adopt a voluntary code of practice that would require customers to produce proof that they are over 18 to buy them.
Buzz-chasers in the Republic spent €130.4m on energy and sports drinks together last year — and a massive €1.3bn in total on all soft drinks — so there is a big thirst for the products.
That’s also reflected in the fact that Safefood found 39 energy drink products in the six major supermarket chains, compared to just 10 the last time a survey was carried out in 2002.
Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood described the growth of the market as “remarkable” and attributed it to low prices, extensive promotional campaigns on social media, and linkages with sport, music and other high adrenaline youth-focused activities.
And while they are marketed as providing a boost during study and sport, she said: “Safefood reiterate that energy drinks are not suitable for children under 16 or for rehydration purposes following sport.
“The marketing of these products should be undertaken without any ambiguity or association with sport. An awareness campaign of the potential health issues, targeted specifically at young people, is something that needs to happen.”
Concerns were also raised about the use of energy drinks as mixers for alcohol. GP Dr Ciara Kelly said: “The combination stimulates a person so they actually end up drinking for longer as they may not be aware how drunk they really are. Our A&E departments have to deal with the effects. “
Retailers’ representative body, RGDATA, said they did not have a policy on age checks for energy drinks. Spokeswoman Kathleen Cahill said: “It’s up to individual retailers to make up their own mind. If Safefood think this is something that’s necessary, they should seek legislation around it.”