Action on Sugar: Industry efforts to reformulate energy drinks still failing kids

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/
©iStock/
Despite industry efforts to reformulate energy drinks, the levels of sugar and caffeine per serving exceed a child’s maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake, according to findings by Action on Sugar.

Results shared by the campaign group reveal that in 2017, AG Barr’s Rockstar Punched Energy drink has the highest sugar content with 16 grams (g) per 100 millilitres (ml)

A 500 ml serving would exceed the maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake for a child aged 7–10 years of 24 g per day - equivalent to six teaspoons of sugar.

Rockstar’s product range was also found to contain the highest average sugar and energy content at 14.2g and 60kcal per 100 mL respectively.

Whilst it’s encouraging to see that some energy drinks manufacturers have reduced sugar in advance of the levy next spring, the huge can and bottle sizes (500ml) means youngsters are still consuming far too much unnecessary sugar and caffeine,”​ said Kawther Hashem study co-author and researcher for Action on Sugar at Queen Mary University of London.

“It’s clear that further reductions in both sugar and caffeine are urgently needed, and that they should get rid of large serving sizes – action must be taken now without further delay.”

Lucozade bare brunt of efforts

The study, which appears in BMJ Open​ journal, notes the sugar, caffeine and calorie levels of energy drink brands in 2015 and 2017.

In 2015, Rockstar and Lucozade’s energy drink range ranked highly in average sugar and energy per 100 ml.

Whilst Rockstar products continued to record the highest average sugar and energy content per 100 ml in 2017, Lucozade’s absence appears to be as a result of its recent reformulation efforts.

In July, Lucozade Ribena Suntory vowed to reformulate its drinks​ to contain less than 4.5g of total sugar per 100ml - the equivalent of a teaspoon.

However, the firm’s efforts to avoid the government’s sugar levy in April 2018, resulted in sales of the Lucozade Energy drink brand falling by 8.4% compared to the previous year.

The drink’s reformulation sparked a wave of criticism by consumers complaining about the new taste.

The energy drinks surveyed show a 10% reduction in sugar from 10.6g to 9.5g per 100 ml and a 6% reduction in calorie content per 100 ml between the same periods.

A spokesperson for the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) defended industry efforts stating that energy drinks and their ingredients have been deemed safe by regulatory authorities worldwide.

“As an industry we recognise we have a role to play in helping consumers make informed choices which is why in 2010 we introduced a voluntary Code of Practice stating that high caffeine soft drinks should not be promoted or marketed to those under 16. 

“In addition to this, the vast majority of product lines offer a low sugar variant and all energy drinks carry an advisory note stating: Not recommended for children.”

The BSDA code of practice counts Red Bull, Monster, Relentless and Rockstar amongst its supporters.

Rockstar top of the pops

Other research results found US-based brand Rockstar occupying three of the top five positions in the list for sugar content.

Its Punched Energy + Guava Tropical Guava Flavour 500ml contained 78g of sugar per 500ml followed by Relentless Energy Drink Passion Punch at 70g.

Rockstar Super Sours Energy Drink Bubbleburst (69g), Rockstar Xdurance Performance Energy Blueberry, Pomegranate and Acai Flavour (69g) and Lidl’s Freeway Up Colossus Energy Drink (45.5g) made up the list.

“This study illustrates the huge contribution of energy drinks to sugar intake, which is linked to the development of obesity and various types of cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes and rotting our children’s teeth,”​ said Professor Graham MacGregor, study co-author and chairman of Action on Sugar.

“They are completely inappropriate for children to consume, form no part of a healthy balanced diet, and should be banned for under 16s.”

According to the BSDA, sales of energy drinks in the UK have increased by 155% between 2006 and 2014, from 235 to 600 million litres, with an average per capita consumption of 9.4 litres in 2014.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found young people in the UK consumed more energy drinks than in other EU countries (3.1 lires per person per month, compared with 2 litres.

Mintel said the leading brands’ shares in the UK energy drinks market, by value in 2013–2014, were Red Bull (25%), own label (12%), Monster (10%), Relentless (6%), Rockstar (5%), Mountain Dew (2%), Boost (2%) and Emerge (2%).

The market analysts also suggest a potential increase in purchase among children aged 10–14 years.

Source: BMJ Open

Published online ahead of print: doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018136

“Cross-sectional surveys of the amount of sugar, energy and caffeine in sugar sweetened drinks marketed and consumed as energy drinks in the UK between 2015 and 2017: monitoring reformulation progress.”

Authors: Kawther Hashem, Feng He, Graham MacGregor

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