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UK: Waitrose bans sale of energy drinks to under-16s

Waitrose has become the first UK supermarket to ban sales of energy drinks to under-16s, amid concerns about high levels of sugar and caffeine and their impact on children’s health and behaviour.

From 5 March, customers buying drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre will be asked to prove they are over 16.

Drinks such as Red Bull, Relentless, Monster Energy and Rockstar have become increasingly popular with children and teenagers who consume them more than adults, even though under UK industry labelling guidelines any soft drink with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must carry a high caffeine content warning and state it is not recommended for children.

The compulsory health warnings read: “High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women or persons sensitive to caffeine.”

The move makes Waitrose the only UK supermarket to introduce a sales policy aligned with the guidance on energy drink packaging. In early 2015, Morrisons ended its trial ban on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s, which it had rolled out to just six stores.

Last month the teachers’ union NASUWT called for the sale of the drinks to under-16s to be banned. Its national official for education, Darren Northcott, described the beverages as “legal highs” that helped to fuel bad behaviour in schools.

Also seeking a ban are medical experts, including the charity Action on Sugar, as well as the TV chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver.

Simon Moore, Waitrose’s director of technical and corporate social responsibility, said: “As a responsible retailer, we want to sell these products in line with the labelling guidance.

“These drinks carry advice stating that they are not recommended for children, so we’re choosing to proactively act on that guidance, particularly given the widespread concerns which have been raised about these drinks when consumed by under-16s.”

The Food Standards Agency warns that energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine, usually about 80mg in a small 250ml can – similar to the amount in three cans of cola or a mug of instant coffee.

As well as caffeine, they sometimes contain ingredients such as glucuronolactone and taurine, as well as vitamins, minerals and herbal substances. Some of the smaller “energy shot” products can contain 80-160mg of caffeine in a 60ml bottle.

Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action on Sugar, at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We are delighted to see that Waitrose is leading by example with its ban and hope that other retailers will follow suit immediately.

“Energy drinks are completely inappropriate for children to consume, form no part of a healthy balanced diet, and should be banned for under-16s across the board.”

She pointed out that its study published last month in BMJ Open revealed that the sugar, calorie and caffeine content in energy drinks was far too high.

“Just one can of Rockstar Punched (500ml) contains 78g sugar – that’s nearly 20 teaspoons. The consumption of energy drinks is a huge contribution to sugar intake, which is linked to the development of obesity and various types of cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes, and is rotting our children’s teeth.”