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, in an update to parliament this week, Scotland’s Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health, Jenni Minto, said the country would not pursue the policy at this time.
An evidence brief, published on Tuesday, 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) suggests 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).
While the government points to ‘considerable evidence’ that consumption of carbonated energy drinks is associated with a range of adverse physical and mental effects, as well as possibly poorer school achievement and attendance, it acknowledges it is not clear whether those with poorer achievement are more likely to drink energy drinks or whether energy drink consumption leads to poorer educational outcomes. Energy drink consumption also appears to be associated with other negative lifestyle behaviors such as drinking and smoking.
The 2019 consultation – which received 119 responses (81 from individuals and 38 from organisations or groups) found views were split between those in support of a mandatory approach (generally, individuals and non-industry) and those who opposed mandatory measures and questioned the evidence for their effectiveness (generally, industry respondents).
“The aim of the consultation was to inform our consideration of whether there is sufficient cause and evidence to mandate restrictions on their sale,” said health minister Jenni Minto.
“An evidence-based approach is central to the development of our policy. We have carefully considered the received responses in conjunction with the current evidence base and, today [May 30], we have published an evidence brief on energy drinks alongside the consultation analysis report.
“Based on our considerations, we do not think that the evidence base is sufficiently developed to pursue mandatory measures at this time. I recognize that consumption of energy drinks is a significant concern to parents, teachers and young people. We 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.
“We will also consider what additional evidence gathering and analysis could be undertaken, including on the impacts of current voluntary actions and understanding young people’s consumption of energy drinks and the contribution that that makes to their total caffeine intake. That will help to inform consideration of possible mandatory measures in the future.”
Industry group the British Soft Drinks Association credits such voluntary initiatives undertaken by the sector for helping shape the government’s decision: such as pledges to refrain from marketing energy drinks in or near schools.
"We welcome this recognition from the Scottish Government that voluntary measures introduced by industry and implemented by many of our retail partners have had a significant impact on stopping the sale of energy drinks to children," he said.
"The BSDA’s voluntary Code of Practice on energy drinks, which was introduced by and for our members in 2010, contains a number of stringent points on responsible marketing, meaning BSDA members do not market or promote energy drinks to under-16s, nor do they sample products with this age group,” said Gavin Partington, director general.
“In addition, their energy drinks carry an advisory note stating ‘not recommended for children’.
"BSDA members remain committed to supporting the responsible sale of energy drinks."
Various UK supermarkets have introduced their own policies on energy drink sales, such as limiting sales to customers aged 16+.