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Energy drinks contain up to 17 spoons of sugar and twice as much caffeine as an espresso

Overall energy drinks manufacturers have reduced the sugar content in their products since the sugar tax was introduced.

SOME ENERGY DRINKS contain up to 17 spoons of sugar and twice as much caffeine as an espresso, according to a new report.

A survey carried out by Safefood found that, overall, energy drinks manufacturers have reduced the sugar content in their products in response to the introduction of the Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax in 2018.

However, there has been an increase in the proportion of drinks being sold in bigger serving sizes.

The tax was introduced in a bid to tackle obesity levels in Ireland.

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The research found that the average sugar content per serving of energy drinks has fallen by approximately two teaspoons of sugar – down from 31g in 2015 to 23g in 2019.

Of the three leading energy drink brands – Lucozade, Red Bull and Monster – who have a combined market share of 80%, there was a reduction in the sugar content of the market leader (Lucozade) but no reduction in the sugar content of the other two.

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The report notes that before the introduction of the sugar tax, 74% of energy drinks in the Irish market would have been eligible for taxation – that is, containing at least 5g of sugar per 100ml. The 2019 research shows that only 41% are now eligible for taxation.

The snapshot survey was carried out by Safefood in April. It identified an increase in the number of energy drink products for sale (up from 39 to 42) with a large increase in drinks sold in 500ml servings (eight in 2015 versus 16 in 2019), and no change in the number of drinks sold in 250ml servings.

Commenting on the report, Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the “significant reduction in sugar content in many products” following the introduction of the sugar tax. However, he said it is “disappointing that some of these manufacturers have not responded appropriately”.

Many of these products are still high in sugar and I strongly urge retailers and manufacturers to consider further measures to reduce the sugar content of their products. I am also very concerned at the trend in increasing container sizes.

Harris called on children, young people and their parents “to be aware that these drinks are still unsuitable for consumption by them”.

The latest market research, carried out by Euromonitor International, shows that between 2015 and 2018 there was a 3.4% increase in the volume of energy drinks sold in off-trade environments – ie supermarkets, convenience stores and discounters – in Ireland, and this now totals 26.7 million litres.

This is the equivalent of every man, woman and child drinking 5.5 litres of energy drinks every year and puts Ireland near the very top of energy drink consumption relative to other countries in the EU. 

Marketed to young people 

Speaking about the survey’s findings, Dr Marian O’Reilly, Chief Specialist in Nutrition at Safefood, noted that sugary drinks are “linked with poor dental health and excess weight”.

It’s a concern that they are cheap, readily available, in large containers and are marketed in a way that is appealing to young people.

O’Reilly described the fall in the average sugar content of these products as encouraging but said the increase in caffeine content is concerning. 

“These drinks are not suitable for children and we would encourage those aged over 16 to consider energy drinks as an occasional drink due to the often-high sugar and caffeine content,” she added. 

A number of retailers in Ireland have banned the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 16. Drink products with caffeine contents greater than 150 mg per litre are required to be labelled ‘high caffeine content’ and the amount of caffeine present must be stated.

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