The top children’s doctor in Northern Ireland has said he would welcome “any measure” to protect children’s health, amid plans to ban the sale of energy drinks to either under-16s or under-18s.
Youngsters in the UK reportedly consume more of the high-caffeine, sugar-loaded drinks than other children in Europe and the habit is harming their health and education, ministers fear.
The restrictions will apply to drinks with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre, like popular brands Red Bull, Monster and Relentless.
Excessive consumption has been linked to a host of health and behaviour problems in children, from headaches to hyperactivity.
Many major retailers already refuse to sell to under-16s but the government intends to introduce a blanket ban under plans put out for consultation, with restrictions on either under-18s or under-16s being considered.
The ban would be introduced in England, while Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales have the power to implement their own bans, although the lack of a devolved Assembly here means it is unclear whether any legislation might be introduced.
Paediatric consultant Dr Karl McKeever, described by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as the top children’s doctor in Northern Ireland, said energy drinks are attractive to children and often seen as a “quick fix”.
Dr McKeever added: “More than two thirds of 10-17-year-olds and a quarter of 6-9-year-olds consume energy drinks so there is clearly a growing market for them.
“However, although there is some evidence that energy drinks have a negative impact on health, more research is needed, especially in relation to the effect of caffeine on the developing body.”
He continued: “We hope government’s timely focus on energy drinks will provide an opportunity for this but in the meantime, and while we are still learning of the true impact these drinks have on child health, any measure put in place to protect children and young people from harm will be one I welcome.”
Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: “We all have a responsibility to protect children from products that are damaging to their health and education, and we know that drinks packed to the brim with caffeine, and often sugar, are becoming a common fixture of their diet.”