AM warns of high caffeine energy drinks threat to children

Cans of Red Bull energy drinks The British Soft Drinks Association says the caffeinated beverages are not suitable for children

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More should be done to stop high caffeine energy drinks being targeted at children, an assembly member says.

Labour AM Jenny Rathbone claimed they were aimed at young people in "name, labelling and promotion" and caused problems including hyperactivity.

The Welsh government said it would ensure guidance prevented public bodies selling the drinks to children.

The soft drinks industry body said its code of practice states the drinks should not be promoted to children.

Ms Rathbone also described "a worrying trend" to hook people onto specific energy drinks with the aim of encouraging them to move onto alcoholic cocktails laced with them.

"The interaction between caffeine-loaded uppers and alcohol which slow you down are potentially lethal," she said.

Research by the public health team in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan had found the drinks were a "significant problem" amongst 11 to 16 year olds causing "hyperactivity, mood swings, disruptive behaviour" and other problems, she added.

Start Quote

High caffeine content soft drinks are not suitable for children ... this information should be clearly stated on the label of such drinks ”

End Quote Gavin Partington British Soft Drinks Association Director General

Ms Rathbone called on the assembly to recognise the matter as "a significant public health concern" and urged the Welsh government to raise awareness of the health concerns surrounding caffeine-loaded energy drinks.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh government could only make "a small contribution to a much wider effort particularly involving action in advertising" to prevent children consuming the drinks.

"I will also ask my officials to look at our current health guidance documents on food and drink as it is served in public sector settings to ensure that they recommend the restriction of the sale of these drinks."

Mr Drakeford said a consultation was underway on whether Wales needed a public health bill and "there are some modest contributions which we could make through such a bill to address the concerns".

Emphasising that he shared AMs' concerns about the drinks, he turned to research by the American Academy of Paediatrics in 2011 that concluded that energy drinks were marketed at children and young people.

"Where drinks contained high and unregulated amounts of caffeine, the reviewers found them to be linked with serious adverse affects amongst children and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioural disorders amongst those who take certain medications," he quoted.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, denied that energy drinks were targeted at youngsters.

He said: "The British Soft Drinks Association operates a code of practice which says that high caffeine content soft drinks are not suitable for children, and specifies that this information should be clearly stated on the label of such drinks.

"It also states that high caffeine soft drinks should not be promoted or marketed to those under 16.

"We believe this approach is the responsible way to ensure parents have the information necessary to decide what is right for their families."

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