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Poorly regulated energy drinks could be harming children, WHO warns

Researchers found that many such drinks were being “aggressively” marketed to children, who can be more susceptible to the potentially harmful effects of caffeine intoxication.

Unlike tobacco and alcohol, energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster are rarely restricted for sale to children.

Health experts have warned before about possible dangers of the drinks, which often contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, but are usually consumed much more quickly – raising the risk of caffeine intoxication.

In a review of medical evidence, Dr João Breda of the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, and other researchers, said that “concerns in the scientific community and among the public regarding the potential adverse health effects” of energy drinks were “broadly valid”.

Caffeine intoxication can lead to heart palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, convulsions, psychosis and in rare cases, death.

A third of adults, one in five children and more two thirds of adolescents drink energy drinks in Europe. While they account for only eight per cent of adults’ caffeine intake, 43 per cent of the caffeine consumed by children comes from energy drinks, according to a recent survey by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The survey also found that 70 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds who drink energy drinks mix them with alcohol.

Energy drinks have been linked to a number of deaths in recent years. High doses of caffeine can in some cases disturb the rhythm of the heart, which can be extremely dangerous for people with an underlying heart condition.

Despite health concerns, the energy drinks market is growing in Britain, where consumption has grown to 500m litres of energy drink a year, according to the market research company Canadean, compared to 375m litres just four years ago.

However, the WHO researchers said that greater restrictions and regulations should be introduced to minimise harm to young people, including caps on the amount of caffeine allowed in a single serving and “regulation to enforce restriction of labelling and sales of energy drinks to children and adolescents”.

“As energy drink sales are rarely regulated by age, unlike alcohol and tobacco, and there is a proven potential negative effect on children, there is the potential for a significant public health problem in the future,” they write.

They also said that healthcare professionals should be aware of the risks and symptoms of high consumption. Their paper is published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

Journal Reference:

Energy Drink Consumption in Europe: A Review of the Risks, Adverse Health Effects, and Policy Options to Respond

João Joaquim Breda, Stephen Hugh Whiting, Ricardo Encarnação, , and Jo Jewell

Front. Public Health doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00134
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