Energy drinks could be banned for children under 16 in Wales in bid to tackle obesity

The Welsh Government has proposed banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s in Wales. Credit: PA

A proposal to ban the sale of energy drinks to young people under the age of 16 is one of a series of healthy eating and drinking ideas being considered by the Welsh Government.

It’s launched a consultation on the proposals which also includes attempting to cut the number of fast-food outlets near schools. 

Wales currently has around 1.5 million overweight adults - just under half of the entire population.

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

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.

The UK Government announced similar plans to restrict the sale of energy drinks to under-16s in England in 2019, although that ban still hasn’t come into force.

The Welsh Government’s proposals were launched by the Health and Wellbeing Deputy Minister, Lynne Neagle, during a visit to Whitchurch High School in Cardiff which has become the first school to take part. 

She told me: “There's a lot of evidence now that young people who drink five or more energy drinks a week or five days a week are much more likely to have psychological issues, health problems, headaches, irritability, to miss school. 

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"And we also know that the average energy drink has as much as a double espresso’s worth of caffeine in it as well as a whole day's worth of an adult's sugar entitlement for the day so there are some really pressing health issues that we're trying to address.”

I spoke to some of the students who’d shared their views with her. 

Jessica Hurley, who’s 14, said: “I don't think they should be banned necessarily because obviously in some sports they are very helpful, just obviously not in large quantities. So think maybe instead of banning them, you should raise the prices or have smaller cans.”

Fellow Year 9 student, Harminder Philoi, was more supportive of a ban, saying: “There are things like alcohol that are illegal for under 16s and under 18s to buy. So it is kind of a similar thing, but obviously it's not as serious. So I don't think it's that bad an idea.”

Meanwhile Harshoo Pallister said: “Sixteen year olds get too addicted to things too easily. Like video games for example. They play an hour then keep going and going. I think some people are like that with energy drinks as well, they think it's good to have an energy drink and then more and more.”

'We have to potentially take some tough decisions here for the greater good'

While the consultation has been welcomed by opponents, they are withholding judgement until they see the detail. 

However, the Conservative shadow minister, James Evans, feels it’s long overdue. 

He said: “It's an interesting consultation. I think it's really important that we get the views of people around sugary drinks around the energy drinks and about fast foods outside of schools. I think the Welsh Government has had 20 odd years to get on top of this issue. So it's good to see that they're finally addressing it."

Plaid Cymru is working with the Welsh Government on some aspects of policy although these proposals don’t form part of that agreement. 

The party’s health spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “When we're looking at what we consume, how that affects our body now, how it affects our health chances later in life, that has got to be a good thing. Let's see what this consultation comes up with. But in principle, absolutely.

“We have to potentially take some tough decisions here for the greater good.”

A spokesperson for the British Soft Drinks Association said: "Our members do not market or promote energy drinks to under 16s, nor do they sample products with this age group.

"In addition, energy drinks carry an advisory note stating ‘Not recommended for children.’ This is all in line with our long-standing Code of Practice.”