In comparison to 2002, Safefood has found that there has been a 290% increase in the number of energy drink products in the Irish market. Some of these drinks contain large amounts of sugar, with a 500ml bottle of Mountain Dew containing over 16 spoons of sugar plus an espresso amount of caffeine.
The health watchdog released findings in a new report that reveal an alarmingly high sugar and caffeine content of the drinks in addition to the negative side effects of the drinks being used as alcohol mixers.
"It's really remarkable that these products are so prevalent and together, energy drinks and sports drinks now comprise more than 20% of the soft drinks market in Ireland,” said Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition.
"Consumption can have health consequences because of their sugar and caffeine content. A typical small 250ml can has sugar levels of 6 teaspoons per can which is equivalent to a full chocolate bar.
"The caffeine content is high and drinking two small cans and one small espresso of coffee drives an adult's daily caffeine intake above recommended levels.
"In addition, the use of energy drinks as a mixer with alcohol among young adults also has consequences in the context of Ireland's current binge-drinking culture.
"Safefood's position continues to be that these drinks are not recommended as a mixer for alcoholic beverages but this is now common and part of the binge drinking culture prevalent particularly amongst our 15-24 year olds."
"Safefood reiterate that energy drinks are also not suitable for children under 16 or for rehydration purposes following sport.”
Operation Transformation's GP Dr Ciara Kelly added: "Mixing an energy drink which is a stimulant, with alcohol which is a depressant, is like driving a car with your feet on the accelerator and brake pedals at the same time; it stimulates a person so they actually end up drinking for longer as they may not be aware how drunk they really are.
"GP surgeries and our A&E Departments have to deal with the effects of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
"The cheap price, easy availability, aggressive marketing and consumption of these products bluntly show how far from responsible the industry truly is and why we need to ask ourselves some hard questions when it comes to their use."
Safefood Energy Drinks Report Findings:
- Males aged 15-24 were the highest consumers of energy drinks (64%) and over half of those who consumed energy drinks (54%) consumed them at least once a week or more frequently.
- The Safefood report found that the average price of an energy drink in Ireland was €1.09 however this cost ranged as low as €0.49 cent with supermarket own-brands being cheaper than branded products.
- In February 2015, 17 brands and 39 separate energy drink products were identified in a Safefood survey of six major retail supermarket chains. This compares with 10 energy drink products found in 2002.
- The estimated value of the energy and sports drink market in 2015 for Ireland is €189.5 million. (Mintel, November 2015).
- The leading brands are supported by extensive promotional campaigns on digital and social media, with many brands hosting dozens of dedicated Twitter and Facebook accounts and marketing campaigns.
- In Ireland, 21% of the advertising spend in the soft drinks market last year was by energy and sports drinks - €1,872 million. The total advertising spend in the soft drinks market in Ireland was €7.1 million (Nielsen - March 2016)
Report: Safetrak survey of 800 adults on the island of Ireland. Millward Brown/safefood November 2014