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Wales plan to ban energy drinks for under-16s to curb obesity

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A Monster energy drink. Picture by Xoan Seoane

Banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s and limiting hot food takeaways near schools are among the ideas being floated by the Welsh Government to reduce rising obesity in Wales.

The country currently has around 1.5 million overweight adults with 600,000 of those people deemed obese – just under half of the entire population.

One in four of children are also overweight or obese by the time they start primary school.

The cost of obesity is estimated to be costing the NHS £6.1 billion per year across the UK.

The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that young people aged between 11 and 18-years-old are consuming up to three times the recommended maximum amount of sugar.

Some energy drinks have 21 teaspoons of sugar and the same caffeine as three cups of coffee, with research showing that children who drink at least one energy drink per week are more likely to report symptoms such as headaches, sleep problems and stomach problems as well as low mood and irritability.

There is also evidence to link regular energy drink consumption with low educational engagement and concerns have been raised that these high-caffeinated drinks are impacting students’ learning.

Deputy minister for mental health Lynne Neagle said: “We want to hear people’s views on how we can support the nation to be healthier and to reduce the number of people who are obese or overweight.

“Often, foods that are sugary or high in fat or salt are more readily available and promoted, making it harder for people to make the healthy choice.

“We know this is a difficult time for people with the growing cost of living crisis putting huge pressure on people financially. However we also know If current obesity trends continue, more people in Wales will die prematurely from cancer, heart disease, liver disease and type 2 diabetes.

“We need an open and frank conversation about how we can create a step change in our choices and behaviours. We are talking about reversing significant issues which have built up over generations in our food environment.”

Self-imposed ban

A consultation launched by the Welsh Government on Thursday which will continue until September 1 will ask people to give their thoughts on banning the sale of energy drinks to young people under 16.

It will also hear people’s views on restricting the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar or salt, ending free refills on sugary drinks and expanding the publication of calories on menus.

And whether planning for new hot food takeaways should take into account how close they are to schools and colleges, ensuring factors such as existing saturation, local obesity rates and social demographics are considered.

Lynne Neagle added: “It’s clear that children and adults in Wales are not eating balanced diets, we have fallen into a pattern where foods high in fat, sugar or salt are readily available.

“Dietary behaviors in our childhood have a significant influence on what and how we eat and drink in later life. The consultation has a focus on children and young people and how the environment near their school and colleges can have a huge impact on how they eat. I was pleased to meet the young people at Whitchurch High to hear first-hand their views and opinions, which was incredibly insightful.

“The proposals set out in this consultation would support the long-term health and wellbeing of our nation. If we continue as we are, then sadly more lives will be adversely affected by ill health, both physically and mentally.”

The UK Government also announced plans to ban sales of energy drinks to children in 2019 but have still not placed it into legislation.

Meanwhile, several supermarkets, including Tesco and Adsa, joined a voluntary ban on sales however, reports have since claimed retailers are not enforcing the self-imposed ban.

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