The sale of energy drinks to children under 16 should be banned following studies linking them to a range of health complaints and risky behaviour, according to a report.
A review of worldwide evidence on energy drinks links them to health complaints such as headaches, stomach aches and sleeping problems, while emergency department visits associated with their consumption in the US doubled between 2007 and 2011.
They are also associated with risky behaviours such as binge drinking and drug use according to data cited in the report, published by the Food Research Collaboration, an initiative of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London.
Sales of energy drinks in the UK increased by 155 per cent between 2006 and 2014, from 235 to 600 million litres.
The paper, written by Dr Shelina Visram from Durham University and Kawther Hashem from the health charity Action on Sugar, says consumption among children globally is growing, with the 10 to 14-year-old group expected to increase its intake by 11 per cent over the five years to 2019.
A survey involving 16 European countries including the UK found that 68 per cent of 11 to 18-year-olds and 18 per cent of children aged 10 and under consume energy drinks, with 11 per cent of the older group and 12 per cent of children drinking at least a litre in a single session.
The report said more research was needed on how the high levels of sugar and caffeine in energy drinks interact with each other and with other stimulants present such as taurine and guarana.
A single can of popular brands on the market can contain around 160mg of caffeine, while the European Food Safety Authority recommends an intake of no more than 105mg of caffeine per day for an average 11-year-old.
The report proposes legislation banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s and a ban on marketing targeted at children.
Other potential steps could include in-school interventions and the implementation of shared strategies on energy drinks and children by local and health authorities, it said.
Dr Shelina Visram, lecturer in public policy and health at Durham University, said: “These drinks are associated with a range of health complaints and risky behaviours in school-age children. Action is needed by local and national government to restrict the sale and marketing of these drinks to young people.”