Energy drinks linked to depression and risky behaviours among children, new study shows

Video report by ITV News' Social Affairs Correspondent Stacey Foster, words by Sophia Ankel, Content Producer

The consumption of energy drinks is linked with an increased risk of mental health issues among children and young people, including depression and suicidal thoughts, a new study has revealed.

The study, which is the most comprehensive of its kind so far, was published in the Public Health journal on Monday.

It found that the highly-caffeinated drinks not only have an effect on the physical health of young people, but on their mental health too, impacting everything from academic performance to diet and sleep.

Energy drink consumption, which is known to be more common among boys than girls, is also linked to increased risky behaviours such as substance abuse, violence, and unsafe sex, the study found.

Consumption is also linked with ADHD-like symptoms, including hyperactivity and inattentiveness, the study added.

Data was comprised by researchers from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health at Teesside University and Newcastle University, who looked at 57 studies of over 1.2 million children and young people from 16 countries around the world.

Young people in the UK were the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group, the study showed.

It did not reveal what brand of energy drinks were looked at.

UK healthcare bodies raise alarm

The new data comes as more than 40 healthcare bodies signed a letter to the government demanding it to "finally implement the national sales restriction on these harmful drinks to under 16 year-olds."

The letter said: "The effects of these drinks are more significant and broader than previously understood - in particular negative outcomes for children's mental health in addition to physical health.

"How much more evidence is needed before the government take action?"

Signatories of the letter include the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, the British Diabetic Association, and the British Dental Association.

National supermarkets have banned selling energy drinks to under 16-year-olds. Credit: ITV News

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told ITV News: “All drinks with a high caffeine content, apart from tea and coffee, must carry warnings stating they are not suitable for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women."

The sale of energy drinks to children under 16-year-olds was also banned by most major UK supermarkets - including Tesco and Sainsburys - in 2018.

But experts said supermarket bands and warning labels are not sufficient enough to stop children from buying the increasingly popular drinks, which are still available to buy in local shops.

Adelle Overd confronted the owner of a corner shop who had sold her 12-year-old daughter an energy drink to be told 'if your daughter brings me money in, I will gladly sell her this energy drink.'

Adelle Overd took on the local corner shop that had sold her daughter Freya an energy drink when she was just 12 years old.

She said: "I was fuming, but scared. I think that was another reason why I was so angry with them, thinking what have they potentially just done to my daughter."

Ms Overd was told by the owner that they had "a business to run and if your daughter brings me money in, I will gladly sell her this energy drink."

Professor Amelia Lake, Professor of Public Health Nutrition Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, at Teesside University told ITV News: "If parents look at these cans, the cans will say on them that they are not suitable for children.

"But I think that there is a lot of confusion around whether they are or they are not suitable for children and it is very clear that they are not."

The issue has prompted some schools, like Whitstable Junior School in Kent, to ban the drinks from school grounds entirely.

'Students as young as nine were bringing in a new energy drink into school', Headteacher Sarah Kent tells ITV News

Headteacher Sarah Kent told ITV News: "For some time now the school hasn't allowed energy drinks in school."

She explained there was a period last year when students as young as nine were bringing in a new energy drink into school.

"In the way that that was marketed meant children didn't see it as an energy drink, they saw it as a health drink," She said.

"We've noticed that children we know that drink those drinks, there is an impact on their behavior - they find it difficult to concentrate in class and to regulate their emotions.

"A lot of them talk about difficulties they have with sleep, so it almost becomes a vicious cycle with them," she added.

Energy drinks are becoming increasingly more popular with young people

Over the years, energy drink brands have increasingly been targeting young people through online adverts, computer games, television and sports sponsorship.

On drink that has been particularly popular with children is Prime, which was launched by social media influencers and former boxing rivals Logan Paul and Olajide “KSI” Olatunji last year.

KSI and Logan Paul. Credit: Prime/PA

The energy drink was so in-demand that bottles flew off the shelves, leading to chaotic scenes in supermarkets and some shops selling for as much as £100.

But the company received criticism from experts and politicians alike after it was revealed the drink contains more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per can - almost twice the amount of energy drink Red Bull and equivalent to around six cans of Coke.

On the company’s website, a fact page states: "Prime Energy is not recommended for children under the age of 18, women who are pregnant or nursing or individuals who are sensitive to caffeine.”

British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) Director General, Gavin Partington said: "The BSDA's voluntary Code of Practice on energy drinks, which was introduced by and for BSDA members in 2010, contains a number of stringent points on responsible marketing, meaning BSDA members do not market or promote energy drinks to under-16s, nor do they sample products with this age group.

"In addition, our members' energy drinks carry an advisory note stating ‘not recommended for children’. BSDA members remain committed to supporting the responsible sale of energy drinks."

If you are in need of help and support, please contact:

  • Lighthouse Club, which is a leading construction industry charity that helps those struggling with their mental health. It has a 24/7 helpline, text support services, self-support app and support groups. Contact the helpline on: 0345 605 1956 or text HARDHAT to 85258

  • Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues. It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Call 0300 123 3393 or email

  • Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline) or email

  • Shout is a 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone struggling to cope and in need of immediate help. Text SHOUT to 85258.

  • SOS Silence of Suicide provides a listening service for people who need emotional support, understanding, compassion & kindness. Phone 0300 102 0505

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