Scientific evidence on safety of energy drinks weighed

The safety of energy drinks containing caffeine is under review.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand's (FSANZ) ministerial council is considering the scientific evidence on caffeine and its use in energy drinks.

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is also updating its risk profile of caffeine, with results due this year.

FSANZ said it was responding to community concerns over the number of energy drinks containing caffeine, and reports of incidents involving youngsters who had been drinking the products.

Canterbury public health nutritionist Bronwen King said manufacturers were using a law loophole to market drinks and shots with high caffeine levels.

Food and drinks must not have more than 320 milligrams of caffeine per litre.

However, companies got around this by labelling energy products as "dietary supplements".

King said dietary supplements should be sold in pharmacies, health-food shops or the supplements section of the supermarket, rather than beside sweets at the checkout.

Children regularly having energy drinks and shots were at risk of nutritional deficiencies, becoming overweight or obese, and bone problems, she said.

"While saying on the label `not suitable for children', these products are clearly designed to hook kids in so they keep buying the product," she said.

"While company profits soar, our children's health is being jeopardised," King said.

Geoff Allen, NZFSA director, compliance and investigation, said the authority agreed children should not consume a lot of caffeine.

It was working with convenience stores to ensure dietary supplements were displayed and sold appropriately. Any restrictions on the sale of high-caffeine products would have to be based on evidence of significant health risk.

Canterbury District Health Board clinical director Dr David Jardine said caffeine was the most used drug in the world, and there was no scientific evidence for chronic consumption being harmful.

"I know of no bad effects in children and pregnant women," he said. "Humans seem to be able to deal with caffeine very well."

The Press