Energy drinks are linked with an increased risk of psychological illnesses in children, including anxiety, stress, depression as well as behaviors such as substance use and violence, according to a new study.
The findings, published in the journal Public Health on Monday, underscore the need for regulatory action to restrict the sale and marketing of energy drinks to children, scientists say.
“We are deeply concerned about the findings that energy drinks can lead to psychological distress and issues with mental health. These are important public health concerns that need to be addressed,” study co-author Shelina Visram said.
“There has been policy inaction in this area despite government concern and public consultations. It is time that we have action on the fastest-growing sector of the soft drink market,” Dr Visram said.
Researchers called on the UK government to take action on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s as they are being sold to young people at rates cheaper than bottled water.
A new study in @BMJ_Open reveals energy drinks have been linked to poor sleep quality 😴 and insomnia among college students. Even just occasional drink is linked to a heightened risk of disturbed sleep. 🔋 Read more here: https://t.co/p6OhjJplUL pic.twitter.com/bJEWpIjw2H
— BMJ (@bmj_company) January 23, 2024
In the research review, scientists assessed health data from 57 studies of over 1.2 million children and young people from over 21 countries.
Scientists found that young people aged 18 to 35 who consumed energy drinks every day slept about half an hour less than those drinking them occasionally or not at all.
Boys were also found to consume the drink more often than girls, and men having two or three drinks a week were 35 per cent more likely to have a bedtime after midnight, 52 per cent more likely to sleep less than six hours, and 60 per cent more likely to wake in the middle of the night than those who did not or rarely drank them.
Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine – about of 150 mg per litre – and sugar and are marketed as providing people with an energy boost.
Researchers found that the more people drank energy drinks, the less sleep they had.
But even just an occasional can – about 1-3 times a month – is linked to an increased risk of disturbed sleep, new research indicates.
Another study, published on Monday also found that compared with those consuming energy drinks occasionally, men who reported drinking them daily were more than twice as likely to say they slept fewer than 6 hours per night.
These drinks are easily available in local shops and being sold for as little as 25p with “four for £1” promotions, and are being sold to children, targeting them via online adverts, computer games, television, and sports sponsorship, linked to extreme sports and gaming along with the use of sexualised imagery, researchers say.
Previous research findings that up to a third of children in the UK consume caffeinated energy drinks every week led to many supermarkets in the country agreeing to ban the sale of energy drinks to children,
However, the drinks are easily bought by children in places like corner shops and there has not been any further government action to restrict their sale to kids, scientists say.
“We have raised concerns about the health impacts of these drinks for the best part of a decade after finding that they were being sold to children as young as 10 years old for as little as 25p. That is cheaper than bottled water,” Amelia Lake, another author of the study, said.
“The evidence is clear that energy drinks are harmful to the mental and physical health of children and young people as well as their behavior and education. We need to take action now to protect them from these risks,” Dr Lake added.