x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pupils warned not to binge on energy drinks

The education authority said consumption of drinks including Red Bull and Power Horse increases around exam time because pupils believe the drinks will keep them alert during long periods of revision and exams.

ABU DHABI // Officials have urged parents to monitor their children's consumption of energy drinks during the summer exam period.

The education authority said consumption of drinks including Red Bull and Power Horse increases around exam time because pupils believe the drinks will keep them alert during long periods of revision and exams. Exams for grade 7-12 pupils in public high schools started on June 12 and end next week.

Nutritionists say the combination of high caffeine, sugar and other additives like taurine might provide an immediate burst of energy, but heavy dosages could lead to long-term health risks.

"The consumption of energy drinks is very popular among the youth," said Dr Mubarak Al Darmaki, the manager of P12 health management at Abu Dhabi Education Council.

"But energy drinks only serve as a quick fix."

He said pupils often mistake the mental and physical stimulation triggered by the caffeine-laden beverages for a long-term solution to keep them energised.

"But once the short-term buzz wears off - mostly due to the high sugar content - they end up feeling even more tired than they were to begin with," Dr Al Darmaki said.

"Students should be educated on the importance of time management during examinations.

"Such methods are far more effective than consumption of energy drinks."

One 15-year-old high school pupil, who did not want to be named, said: "I need it because it keeps me awake and gives me a kick. During examinations or when out with friends late at night, it's the only thing that keeps us going."

Stephanie Karl, a nutritionist at the Dubai London Clinic, said she has had teachers tell her about pupils tucking in to energy drinks first thing in the morning.

"You do see children buying them and that is the first thing they have in the morning," she said. "They are taken because they are trendy and many also drink them to lose weight."

Mitun De Sarkar, a dietician at the North West Clinic in Dubai said the concoction can increase blood pressure and cause obesity. "There can be excessive heart palpitations and tremors in children," she said.

Most energy drinks have labels stating they are only suitable for people above the age of 16. Power Horse Energy Drink cans state the beverage is not to be consumed by children, and Red Bull officials said they only target young adults above the age of 16.

But the sale of energy drinks is not regulated in this country: their sale is banned in schools, but energy drinks can be bought at shops by children younger than 16.

Mr Al Darmaki said this is a problem. "Such drinks have no benefit to the diet of pupils and therefore are not provided at public schools," he said.

"The problem lies in the fact that such drinks are readily available everywhere and there is no age limit on who can purchase them."

Adel Al Qeisa, a teacher at the Al Noaman Bin Basheer Secondary School in Ajman, said: "It's how they fit in; most boys think it makes them a man.

"And during the exams its common for the pupils in the science stream to feel the pressure and resort to staying awake to study with them."

Mr Al Qeisa said the school organises sessions to educate their pupils about the harmful effects of unhealthy drinks.

Alberto Chahoud, the communications manager for Middle East and Africa at Red Bull, said the key ingredients in the drink have not proven harmful.

"One can contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee and should therefore correspond to a person's intake of coffee," he said.

Thomas Königsbauer, spokesman for Power Horse, said they fulfil all health requirements and customers are fully aware of what ingredients the drink includes.

"The packaging also says the drink is not suitable for children," he said. "The packaging further mentions other groups of people who should be careful with caffeine consumption, such as pregnant women or those with heart diseases or high blood pressure."

aahmed@thenational.ae