Energy Drink Manufacturers Reformulate to Avoid Soft Drinks Industry Levy, YET Sugar, Calorie and Caffeine Content Remain at Concerning Levels - BMJ Open Reveals

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A new study1 published today in the BMJ Open2 by Action on Sugar3 based at Queen Mary University of London, has for the first time, revealed the sugar, calorie and caffeine content of products marketed as ‘energy drinks’ sold in the UK in 2015 and 2017.

Whilst the study shows that the number of products (per serving) available on the market has fallen from 90 to 59 between 2015 and 2017, sugar, calorie and caffeine content remain at concerning high levels in 2017.

The energy drinks surveyed show a 10% reduction in sugar from 10.6g to 9.5g/100 ml and a 6% reduction in calorie content per 100 ml between the same periods, highlighting that certain manufacturers have started to reformulate before the impending Soft Drinks Industry Levy in April 2018.4 The manufacturers of the reduced products have either only reduced sugar or have alternatively reduced sugar and replaced it with non-caloric sweeteners.

Soft drinks are the main contributor of sugar intake in children (4–10 years) and teenagers (11–18 years) as well as the second main contributor in adults (18–64 years), contributing to a staggering 30%, 40% and 25% of sugar intake, respectively. Whilst youngsters in the UK are among the highest consumers of energy drinks in Europe.

The study found that typical serving sizes of energy drinks are larger than other sugar-sweetened drinks, at an excessive 500 ml (twice the standard serving). Furthermore, the average sugar content in energy drinks in both 2015 and 2017 (per serving) was more than an adult’s entire maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake in the UK.5

Likewise, 86% of products in 2015 and 78% in 2017 exceeded the maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake for a child aged 7–10 years (24 g/day - equivalent to six teaspoons of sugar). Therefore, to reduce the amount of sugar, calorie and caffeine consumed from energy drinks, larger serving sizes (500 ml bottles and cans) should be restricted, while warning labels for caffeine should be kept.

The study concludes that to reduce the harmful impact of energy drinks, further reductions in sugar, calorie and caffeine are urgently needed. Other measures such as a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children, which was previously called for by Action on Sugar6 and now supported by Jamie Oliver7 and school teachers,8 should also be implemented.

Examples of products currently available at retailers:9

Registered Nutritionist Kawther Hashem co-author of the BMJ Open study and researcher for Action on Sugar at Queen Mary University of London says, “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. 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.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, Chairman of Action on Sugar and co-author of the BMJ Open study says, “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. They are completely inappropriate for children to consume, form no part of a healthy balanced diet, and should be banned for under 16s.”

Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool and Action on Sugar Advisor, says,
"The 10% reduction in sugar content is a brilliant first step. But the worst offenders still have FOUR times the sugar content compared with the best. So there is still plenty of room for improvement – our kids deserve no less."


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Notes to editor
1 Cross-sectional surveys of the amount of sugar, energy and caffeine in sugary soft drinks marketed and consumed as energy drinks in the UK between 2015 and 2017: monitoring reformulation progress authored by Kawther M Hashem, Feng J He, Graham A MacGregor.

2 BMJ Open is BMJ's first online general medical journal dedicated solely to publishing open access research. All its articles, supplementary files, and peer reviewers' reports are fully and openly available online, along with an increasing number of linked raw data sets in the Dryad repository (

3 Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful
effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.

4 This is a new levy that applies to the production and importation of soft drinks containing added sugar. The levy will apply to the producers and importers of these types of drinks. It will have a lower rate which will apply to added sugar drinks with a total sugar content of 5 grams or more per 100 millilitres and a higher rate for drinks with 8 grams or more per 100 millilitres.

5 The average intakes in 2014 of sugar exceeded recommendations in all age groups. The mean sugar intake in adults was 60 g per day and contributes to 12% of daily energy intake. Children have a higher sugar intake with an average of 54 g (13%) per day in those aged 4–10 years and 73 g (15%) per day in those aged 11–18 years. In July 2015, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended that average free sugars (sugar) intake, across the UK population, should not exceed 5% of total energy intake SACN also advised that consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, including energy drinks, should be minimized in children and adults because high intake of sugar is contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental caries.

6 In 2015, Action on Sugar called for the sale of energy drinks to children under 16 to be banned.

7 Jamie Oliver told LBC he will fight for new legislation to ban energy drinks being sold to children within the next six months.

8 Energy drinks are 'readily available legal highs' and should be banned from schools, teachers say

9 Data was collected in store or online during w/c 1st and 11th December 2017 from the following retailers: ASDA, Co-operative, Lidl, Holland and Barrett, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.