The worst offender in the research was Sainsbury's Orange Energy Drink, which has 15.9g per 100ml of sugar - the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar per 500ml. Photograph: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Action on Sugar research finds that some drinks contain up to 20 teaspoons of sugar - more than three times the maximum an adult should consume in a day.
A health campaign group has called for the sale of 'energy' and sports drinks to youngsters to be banned, after its research found that some products contained up to 20 teaspoons of sugar - more than three times the maximum an adult should consume in a day.
Of almost 197 products analysed - all sold at major supermarkets - about eight in ten would be given a 'red' label for containing high amounts of sugar, with more than half having the same or more than Coca Cola.
The research was carried out by the health campaign group Action on Sugar (AoS) which warned that children were being duped into thinking that the products would boost their performance on the sports field or at school.
The products served no purpose whatsoever except to make children addicted to caffeine and habituated to sugars, it claimed, while in the longer term they were "fuelling the obesity epidemic".
Action on Sugar analysed 197 energy drinks sold at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, The Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Ocado, Boots, and Holland and Barrett. They were defined as those with "energy", "energise", "energising", "caffeine" and "stimulation" in the name or stocked under energy drinks sections of supermarket websites.
It singled out the worst offender as Sainsbury's Orange Energy Drink which has 15.9g per 100 ml of sugar - which is the equivalent of 20 teaspoons for every 500ml (less than a pint). Next was Rockstar Punched Energy + Guava Tropical Guava Flavour which has 15.6g of sugar per 100ml, compared with Coca Cola which contains 10.6g per 100ml.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said: "Children are being deceived into drinking large cans of this stuff thinking they are going to improve their performance at school, during sports or even on a night out. In reality all they are doing is increasing their risk of developing obesity or type 2 diabetes which will have lifelong implications on their health. Type 2 diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, limb amputation and kidney dialysis - hardly the image of a healthy, active person."
Kawther Hashem, nutritionist at Action on Sugar, added: "The levels of sugar in a typical can is disgraceful. Free sugars increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental caries and we need to protect children and teenagers from drinking these products."
Sainsbury's declined to comment. But the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said children under 16-years were not targeted in promotions. Director general Gavin Partington said: "These products are called energy drinks for a reason - they deliver a caffeine or glucose-based energy boost. They are now available in a variety of types, flavours and sizes - including a range of low and no calorie options - so consumers have a much wider choice. BSDA members do not promote energy drinks to children under 16 and all products are clearly labelled in compliance with EU regulations.