Scottish Government halts plans to ban sale of energy drinks to children

SCOTLAND – The Scottish Government has abandoned its plans to stop the sale of energy drinks to children that were being considered as a measure to tackle rising obesity levels.

SNP ministers previously claimed that a crack-down on the sale of drinks high in caffeine could help tackle sleep issues among youngsters and improve educational attainment.

In addition, a consultation, launched in 2019, had proposed banning sales of energy drinks–defined as any drink, other than tea or coffee, with over 150mg of caffeine per liter–to children, suggesting an age restriction of 16 years old.

However, Jenni Minto, the public health minister, told MSPs today that a public consultation had found “insufficient evidence” to support a legally enforceable ban on the products being sold to Scots under-16.

She added that an evidence-based approach is central to the development of the country’s policy. And as such, after careful consideration of the received responses in conjunction with the current evidence base, the government has published an evidence brief on energy drinks alongside the consultation analysis report.

The evidence brief said that current data showed that caffeinated energy drink consumption is ‘relatively low’ in children and young people across the UK, although there is reasonable evidence of a sub-group of high chronic or high acute users.

The research suggests that around 5-11% of young people (aged 11-17) consume carbonated energy drinks daily, but there are also indications that consumption levels are falling.

Although there is limited Scottish data, the evidence brief found no evidence to suggest consumption is dissimilar to UK data. The most recent figures for Scotland from 2018 (sample size 5286) suggest 5% of children (aged 11-15) consume energy drinks every day (the question in the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey has only been included once, meaning there is no trend data available).

Minto also signaled a change in government thinking on the wider issue of tackling soaring rates of obesity across the country.

She said: “Rather than introduce the Public Health (Restriction of Promotions) Bill, I instead plan to consult on the detail of proposed regulations this autumn. This includes proposals to restrict the promotion of less healthy food and drinks in prominent locations in stores, for example at the end of aisles and beside checkouts.

“We also propose to target certain price promotions which encourage people to buy more than they need, for example, multi-buys and unlimited refills.”

Scottish Tory health spokesman Sandesh Gulhane accused the government of not doing enough to tackle obesity.

She said: “This statement does little to address the obesity epidemic sweeping across Scotland. The minister’s statement amounts to: 1) energy drinks–we won’t do this; 2) mandating calorie labeling–we’re not sure; 3) restrictions of promotions–let’s do some more thinking.”

Minto explained that the government recognizes that the consumption of energy drinks is a significant concern to parents, teachers, and young people and will therefore continue to support voluntary measures to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children and will keep under review how those could be strengthened.

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