Dubai schools ban energy drinks: Why such beverages are harmful for children

While energy drinks can provide a temporary boost in alertness and energy levels, they also come with several risks and drawbacks


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Fri 26 May 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 27 May 2023, 9:36 PM

Energy drinks have been a topic of renewed concern among educationists and doctors in the UAE due to their potential negative impacts on students and young adults who consume them frequently.

While energy drinks can provide a temporary boost in alertness and energy levels, they also come with several risks and drawbacks.

A 2020 study at Harvard University stated, “While it is true that some controlled trials have shown temporary improved alertness and reversal of fatigue after taking energy drinks, as well as enhanced physical performance in young athletes, the majority of studies show an association with negative health effects. These include increased stress, aggressive behaviours, increased blood pressure, increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, poor sleep quality, and stomach irritation.”

Recently, a school in Dubai alerted parents about the potential risks associated with children consuming Prime Energy drinks, with the institution banning the drink.

The GEMS World Academy, in a circular to parents highlighted various health problems, including anxiety and the possibility of developing addiction, as consequences of consuming these beverages.

Dean Winders, Assistant Principal Primary – Personal Development, Welfare and Behaviour at GEMS World Academy says, “By promoting a healthy diet, we aim to equip our students with the tools they need to lead a balanced lifestyle that will positively impact their academic performance, physical health, and emotional wellbeing. We believe that healthy habits formed at an early age will pave the way for a lifetime of wellness.

“That is why we strongly believe that energy drinks that are high in caffeine and sugar should be prohibited in schools. These drinks are often marketed towards young people with claims of increased energy, improved performance, and enhanced mental focus. However, the truth is that these drinks can have serious negative effects on children’s health and wellbeing.”

Educationists highlight children are usually more susceptible to the effects of caffeine that gives them that “extra push” but often has long-term negative effects.

Institutions aver by promoting a healthy diet, they aim to equip the students with the tools they require to lead a balanced lifestyle that’ll positively impact their academic performance, physical health, and emotional wellbeing.

They appeal that healthy habits formed at an early age will pave the way for a lifetime of wellness.

Sean Lewis, Head of Pastoral Care, Student Development, Wellbeing and Safeguarding (DSL), Star International School, Al Twar says, “We implemented a healthy eating policy throughout the school. This healthier way of living means avoiding energy drinks. If anyone is drinking these, it should be monitored closely due to the high sugar content and the ability to become addicted to them. Overindulgence in these types of drinks can also impact a child’s wellbeing, as well as their physical and dental health. We hold regular sessions and assemblies at school where we remind our entire community, students and parents, about the importance of maintaining a balanced and healthy diet.”

In many UAE schools, students are regularly rewarded with healthy eating certificates when they are seen to be eating healthy. These acknowledgements are made in assemblies to encourage more students to eat and drink healthily.

Benjamin Atkins, Head of Secondary, The Aquila School says, “A science experiment we do with our pupils examines different drinks' sugar content. Pupils are often surprised to see how much sugar they consume in just one bottle. I think energy drinks are unsuitable for children and should be banned in all schools, like at our school. It is important to prioritise the health and wellbeing of our pupils, and energy drinks do not align with that goal.”

Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam, Principal, Gulf Indian High School, Dubai, says, “Allowing 'Energy Drinks' in schools encourages students to take more unhealthy drinks. When we allow energy drinks in schools, we encourage kids to take more of the harmful drinks, we increase the risk of them developing health problems. We also increase the risk of them performing poorly in academics. I feel that we should ban energy drinks in schools. Parents should also carefully monitor the use of these drinks by their wards.

Principals point out that children are at a very impressionable age where they are unable to make wise choices on their own, so, it’s important that students are given access to only healthy drinks.

Deepika Thapar Singh CEO-Principal of Credence High School says, “It becomes our responsibility to ensure that all drinks and eatables that have harmful side effects are completely banned. Energy drinks which have artificial sweeteners and caffeine, causing life threatening side effects such as anxiety, insomnia to name a few should not be sold in schools at all.”

Meanwhile medics in the country say regular consumption of energy drinks may also replace healthier beverage choices such as water, milk, or natural juices.

This can contribute to a poor overall diet quality, lacking essential nutrients, and potentially leading to deficiencies.

What do doctors say?

Dr Kholoud Saad Mohamed, General Practitioner, Aster Clinic, Al Warqa says, “Some parents may not know that energy drinks can actually be harmful for kids below 18 years. Children are at a higher risk for heart issues from excess caffeine in these drinks because their body size is much smaller than adults. High amounts of caffeine in kids can also cause anxiety, sleep disruptions, which can lead to less attention and focus during the day. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children do not consume any caffeine.”

Doctors explain an energy drink has on average nine teaspoons of added sugar in one 12 ounce serving. Excess sugar in children’s diets can lead to unwanted weight gain, cavities and higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Dr Hany Alhendawy, Pediatric specialist, Burjeel Medical City, Abu Dhabi says, “While some energy drinks may claim to be safe, it's important to note that the caffeine content in these drinks is often unregulated. This can lead to potential adverse effects, especially in children with pre-existing health conditions like seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioural disorders. Therefore, it is generally not recommended for children below 18 to consume energy drinks.”


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