Kids at skate park given cans containing twice as much caffeine as an espresso despite risk to their health.

An angry father says an energy drink company handed out its product to his 11-year-old son and other children he believed were as young as 8 at a skate park.

The man took photos after a Monster energy drink truck pulled up at Victoria Park in central Auckland and gave out the 550ml cans containing 176mg of caffeine - which a professor of nutrition says can have serious health effects if consumed by children.

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The father said he had been at the park with his son to celebrate Father's Day when the drink was given directly to his son without his permission.

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He immediately took it from him and went to ask staff what they were doing giving the drinks to kids.

He said he believed one of the children given a drink was about 8 years old and he did not see other parents at the park.

It was irresponsible for the brand to be targeting kids, the man said.

"There should be a law against it."

Freemans Bay mother Kristen Wilson was "appalled" to witness the handout promotion when visiting the skatepark with her two young sons late yesterday morning.

"The truck drives up on to the footpath, and all the bigger kids race over, so the skatepark is effectively emptied," she told the Herald today.

"They were the big 550ml cans, there wasn't any asking the kids how old they were.
"It was just literally dishing them out, the kids got their cans and, I think, stickers."

Ms Wilson said her boys, aged 5 and 6, were among a minority of younger children unaware of what was happening while playing on their scooters.

Although it was hard for her to tell the ages of those who flocked to the drink truck as if it were an ice-cream van, she believed many would have been under 15.

"To say they don't target or market to kids is ridiculous as most of the users of the skate park pre-lunchtime are under 15."

A notice on the Monster cans reads: "Not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women or people sensitive to caffeine."

But Monster's Oceania's country manager Sam Thiele said the company did not target its marketing at kids and had a strict policy of not handing out samples to anyone under 17.

"Our sampling team does not provide drinks to minors but parents have their own discretion to pass on samples which we can't control.

"We do not in any way target children with any marketing practices and our sampling teams are extremely disciplined on questioning any individuals that may appear under this age and demand age ID when in any doubt."

When shown the photos of children holding the cans, he said: "At this point I can only speak for our global policies and specific instruction on required sampling ages that's consistent worldwide. Once again, at Monster we take social responsibility very seriously."

AUT University Professor of Nutrition Elaine Rush said children should not be given products containing caffeine.

"In some people caffeine can cause their heart to beat unevenly or it can speed up their heart rate, and in some people it can slow it down."

Professor Rush said kids were not in a position to understand what affect caffeine in the drinks might have on them.

"Everyone reacts to it in a different way, there's not a universal response. Some children might react adversely."

She said both sugar and caffeine were addictive.

"You get the person hooked and they buy it for life. "

In New Zealand, energy drinks must be clearly labelled, stating that the product contains caffeine, and is not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women.

How much caffeine?

• Monster "import" energy drink (550ml) 176mg

• Brewed/espresso coffee (1 cup)* 80mg

• Instant coffee (1 cup) 60-80mg

• Tea (1 cup) 55mg

• Cola drinks (375ml can) 38mg

• Chocolate bar (50g) 10mg

• Coffees such as latte often contain "two shots" of coffee, meaning double the amount of caffeine.

Source: NZ Nutrition Foundation.

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