EFSA has published a report on a commissioned study that for the first time collates data on the consumption of “energy” drinks at European level for specific population groups, including children and adolescents. The study also estimates consumers’ exposure, through both acute and chronic consumption, to some active ingredients found in “energy” drinks – primarily caffeine, taurine and D-glucurono-y-lactone. The study found that, among respondents , the age group most likely to consume “energy” drinks was adolescents – 68% of total respondents – and that “energy” drinks when consumed by children aged 3 to 10 years account for an estimated 43% of their total caffeine exposure.
The external study, which was commissioned under EFSA’s grants and procurement procedure, also examined specific “energy” drink consumption habits – co-consumption with alcohol or consumption associated with intense physical exercise – among adolescents and adults.
The results provide important data for EFSA’s forthcoming risk assessment on the safety of caffeine. In the context of a broader mandate, EFSA has been asked by the European Commission to determine whether and the extent to which the consumption of caffeine together with other food constituents such as alcohol or substances found in "energy" drinks could present a risk to health as a result of interactions of these constituents.
The key findings from the study are as follows:
- Adults (18-65 years): Approximately 30% of adults interviewed were consumers of “energy” drinks. Among these, about 12% were “high chronic” consumers (regularly consuming on 4-5 days a week or more), with an average consumption of 4.5 litres a month. About 11% of consumers were “high acute” consumers (drinking at least 1 litre in a single session).
- Adolescents (10-18 years): Approximately 68% of those interviewed were consumers of “energy” drinks. Among these, about 12% were “high chronic” consumers, with an average consumption of 7 litres a month, and 12% were “high acute” consumers.
- Children (3-10 years): Approximately 18% of those interviewed were consumers of “energy” drinks. Among these, around 16% were “high chronic” consumers, with average consumption of 0.95 litres a week (almost 4 litres per month).
- Co-consumption with alcohol: Combined consumption patterns among adult (56%) and adolescent consumers (53%) were similar.
- Consumption associated with sporting activities: Approximately 52% of adult and 41% of adolescent consumers said they consumed “energy” drinks while undertaking sporting activity.
- Contribution of “energy” drinks to total caffeine exposure: Approximately 8% for adult, 13% for adolescents and 43% for children consumers.
The study was commissioned after some Member State representatives expressed concerns to the Authority’s Advisory Forum about the growth in popularity of “energy” drinks in Europe and the consequent potential exposure to caffeine and other ingredients, particularly among children and adolescents.
The Forum also noted a shortage of data on “energy” drink consumption across the EU. EFSA’s ANS Panel had also identified the need for new data in its 2009 opinion, which was based on consumption data reported from two Member States in 2003, and which concluded that exposure to taurine and D-glucurono-y-lactone through regular consumption of “energy” drinks was not of safety concern. This study confirms that the scenarios used in EFSA’s 2009 opinion were realistic.
Caffeine is a stimulant present in many beverages and food products: “energy” drinks can contain between 70 and 400 mg a litre and sometimes more. The main effects of caffeine derive from stimulation of the central neural system, which helps to increase alertness and concentration.
Taurine is an amino acid produced naturally by the human body which has some role in cardiovascular, central nervous system and skeletal muscle functions.
D-glucurono-y-lactone is a chemical naturally produced by the human body and present as part of the structural component of connective tissues.