Children and teenagers will no longer be able to purchase energy drinks in most major supermarkets in the United Kingdom.
Major British supermarket chains last week began requiring customers to show identification proving they are over age 16 if they wish to buy beverages containing more than 150mg of caffeine per liter. The popular drinks — which include Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar — have become increasingly popular among children and teens, despite health concerns from scientists.
"Our retailers are doing the right thing for the health of our children and now it's time for government to step up, close the loop and implement a ban," British TV chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver told The Guardian. "We need a level playing field so we can protect all our kids from buying these drinks in all independent retailers."
Mental health problems, risk-seeking behavior, increased blood pressure, obesity, tooth erosion, adverse cardiovascular effect and kidney damage are some of the negative health consequences that have been linked to energy drinks, according to a review of scientific research published last year. in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.
"The wide range of conditions that energy drinks can negatively impact was quite astounding," study author Josiemer Mattei, assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Men's Health.
Energy drinks can contain excessive amounts of several key ingredients that lead to adverse effects, according to the review. The drinks' high amounts of sugar, caffeine and stimulants such as guarana all can cause a variety of negative health consequences.
"The excess caffeine may contribute to cardiovascular outcomes, such as increased blood pressure," Mattei said.
While caffeine has also been linked to health benefits, a recommended daily limit is 400 milligrams for adults. Some energy drinks contain more than 200 milligrams per ounce, including the concentrated so-called "energy shots."
Furthermore, researchers wrote, “the negative health effects associated with energy drinks (ED) are compounded by a lack of regulatory oversight and aggressive marketing by the industry toward adolescents.”
Although the British ban on selling to children is currently an initiative from major supermarkets, some politicians in the country have called for greater regulations on energy drinks.
Maria Caulfield, a member of the kingdom's parliament, asked Prime Minister Theresa May to consider a nationwide ban earlier this year. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has also campaigned for restrictions on selling the beverages to children.
"The very high levels of caffeine and sugar these drinks contain impact adversely on pupil behavior in schools and teachers are left to deal with the fallout," the union's general secretary Chris Keates told the BBC. "There is a chronic lack of awareness about the effects and long-term health impacts of these drinks which many pupils and parents think are just another soft drink."
Sales of energy drinks have increased in the U.S. by more than 240 percent since 2004, and the industry was expected to reach $21 billion last year. As a result, researchers behind the recent scientific review on energy drinks have argued that the U.S. should also seriously consider greater regulation and oversight of the market.
"Public health and policy action must be taken to mitigate the negative health effects and public health challenges associated with ED," the scientists noted, outlining specific steps the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) should take to properly label energy drinks. The authors also suggested that marketing should be regulated, specifically when it targets minors.
Pointing to the growing evidence, the researchers argued that energy drinks "should be considered a significant public health problem that warrants attention."
The American Beverage Association, which states that its members represent 95 percent of energy drinks sold in the United States, disputed the researchers claims in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year.
"Mainstream energy drinks have been extensively studied and confirmed safe for consumption by government safety authorities worldwide, including the FDA and European Food Safety Authority. In fact, most mainstream energy drinks have far less caffeine than a similar size coffeehouse coffee - many have about half as much," the association said in the statement. "America's leading energy drink manufacturers voluntarily go far beyond all federal requirements when it comes to responsible labeling and marketing practices.”