These are the findings of a study conducted by Priority Cost-Effective Lessons for Systems Strengthening‚ or PRICELESS‚ a research unit at Wits University.
“Results of this study have unveiled that the majority of energy drink advertising expenditure has been on television advertising – focused generally on channels with a younger and more male audience below the age of 45 who are relatively wealthy‚” PRICELESS SA director Professor Karen Hofman said.
The researchers believe that while the country is debating a sugar tax‚ advertising‚ one of the drivers influencing the consumption of “harmful products”‚ needs attention.
Lead researcher Nick Stacey said the study established that‚ in the beverage category‚ energy drinks achieved the highest recent sales growth in South Africa.
“Between 2009 and 2014‚ the annual volume of sports and energy drinks rose from about 98-million litres to 168-million litres‚ rising from approximately two to three litres per capita in only five years.”
“The primary health risk posed by the consumption of these drinks is the high caffeine and sugar content which in excess‚ have dire consequences,” he said.
PRICELESS said government has done little to regulate the marketing or production of energy drinks to consumers.
“The legislation is in place requiring manufacturers to label caffeine content in energy drinks‚ however‚ there are no colour- or type-setting restrictions‚ allowing producers to obscure this warning from potential buyers through careful package design,” the researchers said.
Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) said the study highlighted “how aggressively the beverage industry is pushing harmful products on consumers”.
“And‚, unfortunately, ‚ it is working‚,” said HEALA coordinator Tracey Malawana.
Endocrinologist Dr Sundeep Ruder said evidence showed that excessive consumption of sugary drinks is a major cause of obesity‚ diabetes‚ heart disease‚ liver and kidney damage‚ and some cancers.
“Drinks that carry the energy label are usually no less damaging than others and should be judged on their sugar and caffeine content‚, not their marketing pitches. More prominent labelling would certainly assist consumers to make better-informed decisions.”
“Energy drinks are marketed with the claim that these products give an energy boost to improve physical and cognitive performance. However‚ studies supporting these claims are limited.”
Tiger Brands‚ which manufactures drinks such as Energade‚ didn’t respond to queries and Red Bull referred all queries to the Beverage Association of SA (BevSA).
But BevSA‚ an industry body representing non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers‚ said energy drinks contained the same amount of sugar as other sugar-containing beverages.
“The amount of caffeine in a 250ml energy drink is equivalent to that contained in a cup of coffee. Health authorities from across the world have concluded that energy drinks are safe to consume and that there is no justification to treat them differently than coffee‚ tea or other caffeine-containing drinks‚” said BevSA executive director Mapule Ncanywa.
She said manufacturers were committed to an industry-wide healthy food options initiative.
“These commitments include the introduction of light and zero-calorie drinks‚ smaller packaging and sugar reduction through reformulation of 15% by 2019 on sold calories‚,” Ncanywa said.
“All BevSA members have signed up to a marketing code that prohibits marketing to children under the age of 12 years as regulated.”
In addition‚ the non-alcoholic beverage industry currently follows guidelines as stipulated in the Foodstuffs‚ Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act of 1972 with relation to the labelling of energy drinks‚ she said.
Drink serving size and sugar content in teaspoons
Red Bull (new larger can) 355ml – 9
Red Bull 250ml – 7
Mega Monster 553ml – 15
Monster ‘The Doctor’ 500ml – 13
Monster Assault 500ml – 13
Power Play Original 440ml – 12
Power Play Forge 440ml – 14
Powerade Mountain Blast 500ml – 8
Energade Naartjie 500ml – 8
Scheckters Organic Energy 250ml – 6
Lucozade Original 500ml – 5
Lucozade Blackcurrent 500ml – 15