London: Sales of energy drinks to children under 16 will be banned by most major UK supermarkets from Monday, following concerns about their high levels of sugar and caffeine and impact on health and behaviour.
Customers buying drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre in branches of Asda, Aldi, the Co-op, Lidl, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose will be asked to prove they are over 16.
The high street chemist Boots is the latest retailer — and the only non-supermarket — to announce a ban, following the lead of a voluntary restriction taken by Waitrose in January.
Drinks such as Red Bull, Relentless, Monster Energy and Rockstar have become increasingly popular. Children and teenagers consume them more than adults, even though industry labelling guidelines state that any soft drink with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must carry a warning about its high caffeine content 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 teachers’ union NASUWT called last year for the sale of the drinks to under-16s to be banned by all retailers. 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.
“To see a health brand like Boots join the ban on energy drinks to under-16s is brilliant,” said Oliver. “Our retailers are doing the right thing for the health of our children and now it’s time for government to step up, close the loop and implement a ban.
“We need a level playing field so we can protect all our kids from buying these drinks in all independent retailers.”
The Food Standards Agency has warned that energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine, usually about 80mg in a 250ml can — similar to the amount in three cans of cola or a mug of instant coffee.
In January, Theresa May promised to look into the dangers of the drinks after the death of Justin Bartholomew, 25, who took his own life after regularly drinking 15 cans a day. His family believe that the energy drinks heightened his anxiety and helped contribute to his death.