The Energy Drink: A Beverage Too Sweet to Be True?

The recent news that Waitrose will be banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s from 5th March has reopened the debate on the health impact of such drinks. In this post, we’ll consider the science and developments around these beverages.

The Science

Energy drinks contain caffeine and sugar, with the caffeine resulting in a spike in heartbeat and sugar boosting glucose levels, though also going on to produce debilitating sugar crashes. A shocking 78% of energy drinks contain levels of sugar which exceed a child’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). This content is exacerbated by the fact that the typical serving sizes of energy drinks are larger than similar sugar-sweetened drinks. Alongside this, the ‘energy’ provided by such drinks is enhanced by the addition of high amounts of caffeine, derived from the guarana plant. With the RDA of sugar and caffeine at around 30g and 400mg respectively, the fact remains that these energy drinks contain much more than this.

Lobbies for Controlled Consumption

2017 saw the true results of sugar consumption publicised, with the rise of reduced and sugar-free diets attributable to this scientific evidence. Jamie Oliver’s programme ‘Sugar Rush’ explored the nature of children’s sugar consumption, and highlighted energy drinks as particularly high in sugar. The fact that energy drink brands actively target such young consumers to buy their goods means that one in three British under 18 year olds say that they regularly consume energy drinks. Such a prohibition would therefore have a significant impact for a large proportion of young people.

Following this, he recommended that a so-called ‘sugar tax’ be introduced and for all such drinks to be banned in their sale to under-16s. Oliver aligns with the teaching union, NASUWT in his comments, who have even gone so far as to label the drinks ‘readily available legal highs’. This has resulted in Waitrose leading prohibition of these drinks for younger generations and will act to encourage other supermarkets to similarly limit their sale of such beverages.

The Future

2018 will see a UK-wide ‘Sugar Tax’ introduced, and this levy will see soft drink brands who produce drinks containing 5g/100ml contribute c. £520 million to sports funding in primary schools. This has had a knock-on effect for drinks companies such as A.G. Barr, who have replaced half of the sugar in their popular ‘Irn Bru’ beverage with the controversial sweetener Aspartame in order to avoid this tax. However, the outcry against this substitute has been characterised by a petition signed by over 40,000 people. Therefore, it seems that the backlash against such solutions mean that such manufacturers may need to consider paying up, or placate consumers using other methods.



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