Although energy drinks bear a warning that they contain a high caffeine and sugar content and are not suitable for children, they are available at grocery shops. Picture by Tumi Pakkies

Durban - The British government is proposing a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children. However, a local dietitian felt children should be educated about its dangers instead, as a ban would only further pique their interest.

According to a recent South African brand report, South Africans are some of the biggest consumers of energy drinks in the world, with an increasing trend among the youth.

A Durban teacher blamed the sale of cheap energy drinks near his school for pupils’ promiscuity.

Popo Maja, the National Department of Health spokesperson, said there was nothing on the table for South Africa to follow the UK’s example, saying they were guided by the World Health Organisation.

“If WHO said countries should consider banning energy drinks, it would be something worth considering as a country, but there is no such proposal as we speak,” he said.

The British government has launched a public consultation on a proposed ban on sales of energy drinks to children. Officials have said energy drinks contain a higher level of caffeine than standard soft drinks, and that excessive consumption by children has been linked to a range of health problems, including obesity, headaches and sleep problems.

The ban would apply to drinks with 150 milligrams or more of caffeine per litre, excluding coffee and tea.

More than 12 different brands of energy drinks are available here.

Packaged in super-sized cans, some are sold from R10, cheaper than most soft drinks. Retailers who spoke to the Daily News said energy drinks were some of their best sellers.

Despite each product indicating on its packaging that it had a high caffeine content and that it was not suitable for children four years and younger, and in some cases not for children under 12, the Daily News observed unsupervised children buying these drinks in the city centre.

Lize Stander, a local dietitian, felt banning energy drinks to restrict their access to children could cause them to be more interested in them if not educated about the health risks.

She said there should, instead, be more awareness about energy drinks.

“Parents should teach their children about the dangers of taking energy drinks. They should monitor what their children eat or drink. If a child has information about the long-term effects of drinks which have a high sugar and caffeine content, we can fight many other products with health risks,” said Stander.

She said energy drinks had no nutritional value and comprised ingredients known to interfere with concentration - a huge disadvantage for children in the classroom.

Some of the documented side effects of these drinks included heart attacks and behavioural problems such as sensation-seeking behaviour.

Scelo Bhengu, president of the Educators’ Union of South Africa, claimed one particular brand of energy drink caused pupils at his school in Durban to be sexually active.

He said his school had had a number of incidents where pupils were caught having sex at school apparently after drinking the energy drink.

“Teachers are now patrolling the school during breaks to monitor what learners eat and drink. Once they consume this high-caffeine, high-sugar energy drink, they become uncontrollable,” he said.

Daily News