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10 Sep 2013

The Department of Health has released a discussion paper on the regulation and availability of caffeinated energy drinks amid concerns from health organisations about the adverse medical effects.

The Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC), which produced the discussion paper, found that sales of energy drinks in Australia and New Zealand have increased from 34.5 million litres in 2001 to 155.6 million litres in 2010.

The FRSC said that there was some public concern that an increase in the range of products may be associated with an increased dietary exposure to caffeine, and that the increase may have implications for individual and population health, particularly among children and adolescents.

The FRSC found that foods that contain a surprisingly high level of caffeine included chocolate, muffins, and breakfast cereals.

In 2000, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) Expert Working Group for Caffeine identified negative effects of caffeine at different doses, including increased anxiety levels at doses of 210mg in adults – equivalent to consumption of three cups of instant coffee – and reduced ability to sleep at doses of 100mg.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton called for an increase in energy drink regulations saying excessive consumption of caffeine can lead to insomnia, nervousness, headaches, tachycardia, arrhythmia and nausea.

“Energy drinks are essentially a cocktail of addictive caffeine with sugar,” Dr Hambleton said.

“Energy drinks contain a significant amount of caffeine and they're promoted alongside soft drinks.

“Regulations need to be tightened as these products are not intended for children or for pregnant women. Even the manufacturers would agree with that.”

A survey released late last week found that one in three teenagers might be consuming the equivalent of 10 instant coffees a day in energy drinks.

Dr Chris Seaton, a paediatric sleep specialist from Westmead Children’s Hospital, surveyed 110 patients and found 35 per cent of the teenagers surveyed consumed at least two energy drinks a day.

Dr Seaton said teenagers are limited in getting alcohol and tobacco but there is no limitation on energy drinks. Caffeine in high doses is a toxic substance and there have been a couple of reported teenage deaths related to an overdose.

The Australian Beverages Council said the survey results were grossly misquoted and that most teenagers consumed the majority of their daily caffeine intake from coffee.

Kirsty Waterford

Image by Au Kirk on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence

Published: 10 Sep 2013