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Countdown to stop selling energy drinks to kids

Supermarket giant Countdown has announced it will only sell energy drinks to consumers aged 16 and older.

The decision, announced last weekend, comes in response to growing concerns about the impact the increased consumption of high-sugar, highly-caffeinated energy drinks is having on New Zealand children.

Kirri Hannifin, Countdown’s general manager of corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, noted that energy drinks are not recommended for children and already have to carry a warning on pack.

“We’re simply choosing to proactively put this recommendation into effect in our stores and that’s why from 2 September you’ll need to be 16 years or older to buy energy drinks at Countdown,” she said in a statement.

Dr Simon Thornley, who recently published a paper on the intake of sugary drinks, said an age restriction on energy drinks make sense.

“The sugar and caffeine in these drinks leads to children getting hooked on them, with rotten teeth and poor engagement in the classroom as predictable consequences,” he said in a statement released by Countdown.

The New Zealand Beverage Council, however, has spoken out against the decision.

Stephen Jones, Council spokesperson, said there was no evidence to support Countdown’s decision given New Zealand already has some of the strongest energy drink regulations in the world, and the evidence shows these regulations are working well.

“While we respect the right of Countdown to make this decision, this really is a case of a solution looking for a problem,” Jones said.

Foodstuffs, Countdown’s competitor, won’t be following suit.

New Zealand has the third highest obesity rate in the OECD, and Countdown has committed to a number of health and nutrition targets as part of its 2020 corporate responsibility programme.

These include giving away more than 50,000 pieces of free fruit for kids every week; reformulating its own brand product range to reduce sugar, salt, fat and remove artificial colours and flavours; and rolling out the Health Star Rating on own brand products. 

The Australia New Zealand Food Standard defines an energy drink as a ‘non-alcoholic, water-based flavoured beverage which contains caffeine and may contain carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and other substances (including other foods) for the purpose of enhancing mental performance’.

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