NZFSA: Energy shots not for children and pregnant women

energy drinksA scientific literature review undertaken by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority has found that energy shots and energy drinks which contain high levels of caffeine are not suitable for children, young adolescents, pregnant women and people sensitive to caffeine.

The finding reaffirms the NZFSA’s existing advisory on caffeine, which when consumed in high doses can lead to insomnia, tremors, dizziness and anxiety, amongst other effects.

The NZFSA-commissioned risk profile report on caffeine was undertaken by Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and found that some people may experience anxiety effects if consuming more than 3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day. For an adult, this would mean limiting consumption to fewer than two standard (non-instant) cups of coffee or four cups of tea a day. For most healthy adults, up to 400mg of caffeine in total a day appears to have no ill effects.

The risk profile was at pains to point out that there are significant information gaps, including a lack of knowledge of energy drink and energy shot consumption in New Zealand, weak evidence of adverse effects on which to base safety levels and lack of evidence for the health effects of frequent high caffeine intakes for children and adults.

The full risk profile can be downloaded here, and a recording of the briefing can be listened to below.

The Science Media Centre wrapped up reaction from scientists:

Dr Elaine Rush, Professor of Nutrition, Faculty of Health and Environmental Science, Auckland University of Technology comments:

“The confirmation that energy drinks and energy shots containing caffeine are NOT for children and young teenagers is a clear message and the one that should be headlined and not be lost to other discussion.

“Caffeine is not a nutrient but globally the consumption of caffeine containing products has exponentially risen and energy shots add to the ubiquitous marketing and consumer demand for caffeine. As the NZFSA state for the consumer to make an “informed choice more information is needed”. Insufficient evaluation of adverse events is not a proof of safety which can be said for over consumption of any food additive nutrient or food. We must not lose sight that of the fact that “consumers do not know what they do they do not know”, do not know what they need to know and rely on the democratic system of having an organised society with delegated responsibilities to experts and systems to make these decisions for them.

“Individual choice to consume anything in whatever quantity can never be a fully informed or free choice. The NZFSA has met its obligation to protect consumers with the issue of clear advice, now this needs to be communicated and the debate should be about the need to protect children and support parents through regulation.”

Professor John Birkbeck, adjunct professor of nutrition, Massey University comments:

“While in general the consumption of caffeine beverages in adults poses no health risks, there are issues with so called “energy” drinks. These contain levels of caffeine much higher than found with normal beverages, and are often targeted at children and youths in whom the dose is relatively greater because of smaller body size. The adverse effects of caffeine under these circumstances can be a serious problem and it is good that the NZFSA should highlight this problem and seek ways to persuade industry to modify the marketing and even the composition of these drinks.”

Caffeine contents:

Espresso coffee (single shot): 80mg

Latte coffee (single shot): 99 mg

Tea: 55 mg

Chocolate bar (50 g): 10 mg

Kola drinks: 145 mg/litre

Energy drinks: 75-240 mg per bottle

Energy shots: 10-300 mg per shot


Dr Donald Campbell, Principal Advisor (Public Health), NZFSA

Ursula Egan, Senior Advisor (Nutrition), NZFSA

Trish Ranstead, Assistant Director (International Policy), NZFSA