What are energy drinks?

As a nation we love energy drinks. Sports and energy drinks are the success story of the soft drinks industry. In 2012 the British people spent £1.665bn on 630 million litres of these beverages (British Soft Drinks Association annual report 2012). We have almost doubled our consumption since 2006 so we definitely like them!


Sports drinks are ‘drinks that enhance physical performance before, during or after physical/sporting activity’ (BSDA)
Energy drinks are ‘drinks with high caffeine levels that are claimed by the manufacturers to give the consumer more ‘energy’ than a typical soft drink’ (Food Standards Agency)

The RRED campaign is focussed on energy drinks. Any drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must be labelled ‘HIGH CAFFEINE CONTENT’. From December 2014 the law will require these drinks to have ‘NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN OR PREGNANT OR BREAST-FEEDING MOTHERS’. The BSDA introduced a voluntary code of practice in 2010 and as a result many energy drinks already carry this wording.


Men are the main consumers, three times more than women. But worryingly the number of child consumers is 50% more than women (Mintel). The research does not show if boys drink more than girls and there is no research on the ages of the children who buy them.


The internet has many references to health issues and energy drinks. A study was carried out by researchers from the University of Miami and was funded by the US National Institute of Health (see NHS Choices 2011) They gathered scientific, medical and government literature from around the world to examine the use of energy drinks by children and young adults. The report said that the drinks have been linked to adverse effects, including confusion, rapid heartbeat, seizures and even death. However, due to limited information available it is not clear how common these problems are among young people who consume energy drinks. The researchers identified no systematic reviews of energy drinks and no randomised controlled trials looking at their effects.

Teachers, parents and carers continue to be concerned about the lack of research into the effect of these drinks on children. In the meantime the safest advice to parents is ‘don’t let children in your care drink them’ and to retailers ‘don’t sell them to children’.


75% of the sports and energy drinks market is dominated by five major brands. There is evidence (Marketing Magazine 2012) that sales of sports drinks are in decline while energy drinks are on the up. This may be because of the youth orientated marketing and the associations with action sports.

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