Supermarkets are set to step up warnings against children drinking caffeinated energy drinks following a UK ban on sales of products to under 16s.
Waitrose and Spinneys are leading the way in efforts to educate parents on the health risks of young people consuming ‘dangerous’ caffeine, but have stopped short of banning the sale of energy drinks to children.
New health warnings against children drinking caffeine loaded products like Monster and Red Bull will be displayed in stores later this month, a move widely welcomed by doctors and teachers.
“All the evidence points to a negative impact the consumption of energy drinks is having on a child’s behaviour and attention,” said Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School, one of those to enforce an outright ban on caffeinated drinks.
“I fully welcome all efforts by supermarkets and regulators in Dubai to make it more difficult for young children to purchase and consume these drinks.
“The real win will be when parents join schools and supermarkets in enforcing these bans,” said Mr Fulton.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and affects adults and children in a similar manner.
Consumption of high amounts caffeine may cause trouble in sleeping, lack of concentration, gastric issues, upset stomach and obesity.
It is also known to increase the blood pressure and heart rate among teenagers.
“As a Principal, I have first-hand experience of how the regular consumption of energy drinks can negatively impact on behaviour and performance,” Mr Fulton said.
“Parents need to work with the school to ensure access to these drinks is significantly limited, if not completely eradicated.
“The fact that regulators and supermarkets are looking to restrict sales to young children and place health warnings on these products is a clear sign schools and parents need to be doing more to protect our youth from the obvious short and long term dangers that these drinks pose.”
Other supermarkets Asda and Aldi have also moved to ban the sale of energy drinks to children under 16 from March.
Asda will ban the sale of 84 high-caffeine drinks from March 5, whilst German supermarket chain Aldi will enforce an age restriction on purchases of soft drinks containing 150mg of caffeine per litre from March 1.
Campaigners in the UK have lobbied in favour of a total UK wide ban.
Waitrose in the UAE is represented by Fine Fare Food Market LLC (FFFM) under a licensing agreement, as is Spinneys.
“At Waitrose in the UAE we are in the process of placing signage, approved by the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology, to provide a health warning to customers, including children under 16 years of age, against the consumption of energy drinks,” a spokesperson said.
“Signage should be in place by the end of January.
“As it is not illegal to sell to children under 16, we appreciate it will be very difficult to enforce the restriction and have therefore asked our stores to consciously monitor the sale to children.
FFFM is currently developing a new Community Social Responsibility programme, of which a sugar review will form an integral part.
Medical professionals have supported the steps taken to encourage wider information to be made available so parents can make more informed checkout choices.
“The consumption of caffeine among adolescents should be extremely limited,” said Dr Shoaib Khan, a paediatrician at Canadian Specialist Hospital.
“Caffeine should be completely eliminated from children’s diet as it interferes with their physical and mental development.
“It is loaded with calories which deprives children of nutrition required for growth. It does not boost energy and can also affect their performance in school.
“We advise parents to either limit the consumption of caffeine in their child’s diet or completely eliminate it.
“It is dangerous for a child’s physical and mental health and can lead to complications at a very early age.”
Apart from energy drinks, coffee and tea, caffeine is also found in chocolate, ice cream, jelly beans, lollipops, beef jerky, marshmallows and gummy bears.
Headache, insomnia, dehydration, irritability, lethargy, constipation, lack of concentration, fatigue and poor performance in school are some of the symptoms of high caffeine consumption.
Dr Dinesh Dhan Wal, an endocrinologist at NMC Speciality Hospital in Dubai, said high sugar levels in most energy drinks should be another concern for parents.
“The high levels of sugar in these type of drinks can create more of a problem, and encourage obesity and diabetes,” he said.
“We know as caffeine is a stimulant, it can cause anxiety and mood swings in adults so this effect is often more pronounced in children.
“Putting on weight can encourage a higher heart rate, so when caffeine is taken, this problem can be made worse.
“Most of the young people I meet are obese, and they have developed some kind of dependence on sugary drinks, often with high caffeine levels.
“It is a good idea to offer more advice to parents on the caffeine content of the food and drink they are giving their children.
“This kind of supermarket programme will help the wider population health.”