Should energy drinks be regulated?

closeup of Coca Cola with ice

International health experts are calling on governments to take a stronger regulatory stand on caffeinated energy drinks, which have been associated with cardiac arrest and sudden death, heart palpitations, digestive tract problems and increased anxiety, even in children as young as 12 years.

The call comes following an international conference at Deakin University late last year that looked at the current evidence regarding the consumption, marketing and harms associated with the use of caffeinated energy drinks.

The conference concluded that the current situation surrounding energy drinks is a clear case of regulatory failure and that government regulatory agencies should act in order to protect the health of those most vulnerable in the community, especially children.

“The increasing evidence of the harms associated with energy drinks can no longer be ignored,” says Deakin’s Associate Professor Peter Miller, convenor of the conference.

“It was startling to those at the conference that this apparently harmless substance was shown to be such a significant threat to adults and, more alarmingly to children.

“It is time that we see leadership from our governments to ensure that consumers of energy drinks are properly informed and that parents are given the ability to make informed decisions about children’s energy drink use.”

To this end the conference attendees have put together a ‘statement of concern’ that summarises the research findings:

  • preliminary data from surveys of Australian and European children and young people suggests that the average age of first consumption of EDs is 10.5 years old;
  • underage drinkers report consuming premixed, off-the-shelf, alcohol-energy drinks because of their familiar sweet taste;
  • the visual similarity of premixed alcohol-ED packaging and soft drink packaging allows underage drinkers to disguise use from parents and teachers;
  • consumption of EDs combined with alcohol is associated with greater levels of alcohol consumption and subsequent harm, especially at higher levels and with groups of risk-taking consumers;
  • preliminary evidence suggests that EDs are being used by young women with disordered eating as meal substitutes and/or appetite suppressants;
  • the marketing and promotion of EDs to children is ubiquitous and almost never in clear public sight, focusing on new electronic media to circumvent parental and regulatory attention; and
  • using EDs to ‘sober up’ is associated with a substantially increased likelihood of experiencing injury.

The statement also provides recommendations for policy change, further research, improving clinical and professional practice and the role of industry such as limiting caffeine levels in the product and access and availability to youth; banning pre-mixed alcohol and energy drinks; product labelling; marketing restrictions and routine screening for energy drink use.

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