Meeting date: Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 13 June 2018
Agenda: Scottish Information Commissioner: Intervention Report, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health, Sustainable Growth Commission, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Energy Drinks (Under-16s)
- Scottish Information Commissioner: Intervention Report
- Portfolio Question Time
- Mental Health
- Sustainable Growth Commission
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Energy Drinks (Under-16s)
Energy Drinks (Under-16s)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11357, in the name of Graeme Dey, on banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament welcomes what it sees as the moves that have been taken by major supermarkets and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents in Angus South and across the country, to ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16s; believes that there is growing concern regarding the consumption of these products among children and young people; understands that a number of studies have indicated that the drinks might have a detrimental impact on health; considers that voluntary measures to restrict their sales are positive steps toward improving the nation’s public health, and notes the view that all retailers should be encouraged to follow suit.17:18
I begin by thanking colleagues from across the chamber for supporting my motion and allowing the debate to take place. That support reflects the genuine interest that there is in halting the sale of energy drinks to under-16s, and the recognition of the negative impact upon young people of consuming such liquids.
Like other members, for some years now, I have been aware of a desire—and a need—to restrict the sale of highly caffeinated energy drinks to minors. My own interest goes back to 2015, when the campaign group, responsible retailing of energy drinks, brought its concerns to Parliament. If memory serves, our former colleague Sarah Boyack facilitated an event for the group.
I had already heard anecdotal evidence about the impact of consumption on secondary school pupils in my constituency of Angus South. Although secondary schools in Angus operated in line with 2014 Scottish Government guidance to disallow the sale of energy drinks on school premises, I heard from teacher friends about pupils heading off campus during their lunch breaks, consuming energy drinks and returning to disrupt afternoon classes. Offering a perspective on the problem, one teacher told me that it was bad enough when one 15-year-old boy was playing up—imagine what it is like trying to control and teach a class when there are two or three.
Three years on, I am delighted to see the growing recognition of the problem that energy drinks pose when they are consumed by youngsters. That understanding has been assisted by The Courier newspaper’s can it campaign, and Scotland’s major supermarkets voluntarily restricting the sale of energy drinks to those who are aged over 16.
This week, I heard from a headteacher about the significance of the problem that remains in our schools. He noted that the only way to describe one pupil he encountered recently after she had consumed some energy drinks was that she was like “a wild animal”.
A few months ago, following announcements from Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi and Waitrose that they were voluntarily ceasing sales to under-16s, I wrote to the other large supermarkets and urged them to follow that lead. I was pleased to receive responses from all those business revealing that they would be doing so. Poundland, Boots and W H Smith have also embraced the approach. That is a positive step in the right direction and I hope that we can all welcome it tonight.
Supermarkets tend to attract a deal of criticism—it is often merited, it should be said. However, when they prove themselves capable of responsible retailing, we ought to give them credit where it is due.
Just as important as the restrictions that have been introduced by our larger stores was the decision of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents to encourage their members to follow suit. The Federation’s 1,500 independent Scottish retailers are now strongly encouraged to introduce the voluntary restrictive measures. The measures that have been adopted by supermarkets and the NFRN should help to reduce the negative effects of energy drinks on our schools, not to mention on the health of our youngsters.
Growing public concern about the health perspective of the issue is well founded. In 2016, the British Medical Journal published a report that covers 400 studies of the consumption of energy drinks among 11 to 18-year-olds. The BMJ’s report found strong links between young people’s consumption of energy drinks and a higher risk of the symptoms of poor health, such as headaches, stomachaches, hyperactivity and insomnia. Similarly, in 2014, researchers from the World Health Organization created a narrative on the current literature on the health risks of energy drink consumption. Their work agreed that there is
“a proven negative effect of caffeine on children”.
and that there is
“the potential for a significant public health problem”.
The WHO researchers also agreed that public concern was “broadly valid” and recommended the restriction of energy drinks sales to adolescents.
Following a further report that was published by the European Food Safety Authority in 2013, which found that 68 per cent of adolescents regularly consumed energy drinks, with an average intake of 7 litres a month, the European Union’s Commissioner for Health and Food Safety at the time made it clear that he would consider a move to ban sales to minors. That was the first time that data had been collected at the European level to track consumption among children and adolescents.
On the back of those findings, Lithuania became the first EU nation to ban the sale of energy drinks to minors, with Latvia imposing similar measures soon after. However, it should be recognised that successful legal challenges have been mounted elsewhere when bans were introduced, such as in France.
The celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, is campaigning for such a move to be made UK-wide. A few weeks back, he wrote to me, having heard suggestions that I might be minded to introduce a member’s bill to that effect in Scotland. Given the momentum behind retailers and other businesses taking voluntary measures—I understand that the Odeon cinema group and the petrol station chain Shell have also ceased selling energy drinks to under-16s—I am not inclined to do that at this time.
We should take time to consider the challenges that legal restrictions on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s could encounter, as well as the potential benefits—not to mention the extent to which voluntary action might actually get us where we need to go. Sitting alongside that action, we should all engage with other retailers and businesses that sell such liquids to the under-16s and seek to cajole, persuade and encourage them to follow where others have already chosen to go. Would it not be great if we could reach our destination without the need for legislation?
I believe that there is an accompanying role for Government in further raising awareness of the detrimental health impacts of under-16s consuming energy drinks and in targeting the youthful consumers, their parents and those selling the products who have not yet seen the light, as it were. The forthcoming obesity strategy might offer a platform for doing that and for providing guidance to retailers on the issue.
The consumption of energy drinks crosses a number of health areas. Today in Scotland, 29 per cent of children are obese or overweight and almost a third of our primary school children have obvious dental decay. Restricting the sale of energy drinks—which are not only high in caffeine but, in many cases, rammed full of sugar—to Scotland’s young people can play a part in establishing a healthier diet for the future of our nation.
Given the substantial public and media interest in the issue—even if the co-operation of retailers means that the introduction of a ban is ultimately judged to be unnecessary—I do not believe that the problem will go away any time soon. As I said, I think that, away from any longer-term legislative solutions, there is a role for politicians in highlighting the issue and encouraging other retailers to self-restrain.
We can also engage with our local authorities and their arm’s-length leisure organisations to ensure that they do not allow access to energy drinks. I know that some have taken appropriate action, but there is no harm in checking the extent to which that is the case. Further, we might need to encourage the supermarkets that have taken the right policy decision to ensure that that is filtering through to the store level. Just yesterday, I was told of a supermarket store in Edinburgh where sales to under-16s may still be going on.
That said, I am hopeful about the matter. Awareness and understanding of the issue is growing, and supermarkets and others have shown a welcome responsibility. Our takeaway from tonight should be that we should spread the word and find ways of encouraging others to follow suit.17:26
I thank Graeme Dey for securing time for the debate. The topic is hugely important and has ramifications for many other subjects that we debate in Parliament.
The issue first came to my attention when I was, funnily enough, standing outside a polling station in Darvel opposite a bus stop where kids were waiting to catch a bus to school. Being the anorak that I am in this particular arena, I noted what the kids were eating. One of them was drinking an energy drink from a can and eating from a huge bag of fizzy sweets. I wondered what state he would be in when he sat down for his first class at 9 o’clock. I can tell members that not many of the others were eating a fruit salad.
We need to discuss the issue. There is a tension between restricting what our children eat and allowing them the freedom to choose. That is probably what the debate should be about, because I think that we would all agree that energy drinks are inherently bad, especially for children in the younger age groups.
I highlight the need for us to consider the issue in the round and to think about how we impact on Scotland’s relationships with food and drink and physical activity. As Graham Dey noted, diet has an impact on people’s physical and mental health. Today’s debate on mental health was too short, so I did not have time to highlight a quotation by Professor David Kingdon, who is a professor of mental healthcare delivery at the University of Southampton. He has said:
“Can we prevent mental health problems? Of course ... the evidence is incontrovertible. So why don’t we? The problems often start in childhood but we spend most of our resources on dealing with the consequences—in hospitals and prisons.”
We should consider the issue as a general health issue. The Mental Health Foundation’s publication “Food for Thought: Mental health and nutrition briefing” said that
“One of the most obvious yet under recognised factors in the development of mental health is nutrition.”
The foundation also said that
“There is a growing body of evidence indicating that nutrition may play an important role in the prevention, development and management of diagnosed mental health problems including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and dementia.”
There is a growing recognition of the fact that there is something to tackle, but banning the products is not in and of itself the solution. I would like to see the matter being tackled as part of a much wider strategy. In the two short years for which I have been a member, I have seen the topic being focused on more and more. Our starting to change some things could lead us down a different pathway: the obesity strategy is coming out soon, there is the good food nation strategy and there is consideration of how we procure food, so many of the elements that can help us to deliver a healthier Scotland are already there. As you know, Presiding Officer, I could talk about this stuff forever. In fact, it is all I have to do.
We also need to be cognisant of planning and of the environment around our schools. One of the things that we should consider is the age at which we allow our children to leave their school at dinner time. I have never understood why, when I was teaching health in school, I had to open the gates and allow the children to walk across the road to buy energy drinks and other unhealthy things.
There are lots of moving parts in the debate. I thank Graeme Dey for bringing it to the chamber. Restriction of the sale of energy drinks is an element of a much wider strategy, and I support it.17:31
I echo what Brian Whittle said, and I start by thanking Graeme Dey for securing a debate on a very important subject that we must take a serious look at. As Brian Whittle said, it is not just a case of a ban being solution in itself: we must also consider the wider environment around our schools. I completely agree with his arguments.
The debate is timely. I decided that I wanted to participate after listening to an interview on Radio 2 last week with Jan Halper-Hayes, whose son Matthew died aged only 19 after consuming a considerable volume of energy drinks mixed with alcohol. The drinks are believed to have caused a blood clot in the arteries of his lungs, which killed him instantly. I know that that is not directly related to the motion today, but it is because of the dangers that energy drinks pose and the effects that they have—particularly on young people—that I whole-heartedly support Graeme Dey’s motion and welcome the actions that have been taken so far by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and by major supermarkets. I encourage all retailers to ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16s.
According to research from 2016, the United Kingdom has the second-highest consumption per head of energy drinks in the world. It is second only to Austria, which is the home of Red Bull. Sales of energy drinks in the UK increased by 155 per cent between 2006 and 2014.
A number of studies have been undertaken to assess the impact of energy drinks on young people. One in particular, by Huhtinen et al in 2013, looked at data from more than 10,000 adolescents in Finland. It found that daily consumption of energy drinks was strongly associated with four caffeine-induced health complaints—headaches, sleeping problems, irritation, and tiredness and fatigue. A similar study in Iceland of more than 11,000 children aged between 10 and 12 found that instances of headaches, stomach pains and sleeping problems generally increased where reported consumption of energy drinks increased.
The symptoms that are caused by energy drinks have for quite some time now been clear to see for people who work in our schools. Forfar academy in my constituency was the first school in Angus—and one of the first in the country—to ban energy drinks in school grounds. That was instigated in 2016 by former headteacher Melvyn Lynch, who wrote to the parents stating:
“It is our opinion that these drinks are a danger to the health of our young people and that they contain no nutritional benefits. In additional to these health risks, we are also extremely concerned about the effect these drinks are having on the behaviour of our young people. They can cause conflict with staff when pupils are advised that they should not be consuming these drinks in classes. We have also had occasions where pupils who have consumed energy drinks have been involved in more serious incidents that have led to exclusion. Whilst energy drinks are not solely to blame for this indiscipline, we believe that they are a contributory factor.”
That view has since been shared and implemented more widely by all schools in Angus and by other schools across Scotland that do not allow energy drinks in school grounds, as well as by small and large retailers alike.
Although all those issues are bad enough in and of themselves, there are also a number of serious health risks associated with excessively high caffeine consumption, including palpitations, hypertension, nausea, vomiting, metabolic acidosis, convulsions and even—in rare cases—death. A study that was published in Journal of the American Heart Association found in a controlled trial that energy drinks can cause potentially harmful changes to heart function and blood pressure.
Those are the dangers that are associated with the caffeine content alone of those drinks, before we consider the added impact of high sugar levels or of combining the drinks with physical activity or alcohol, such as in the tragic case of Matthew Halper-Hayes, whom I mentioned earlier.
The effects of energy drink consumption simply cannot be ignored. One of the UK’s largest teaching unions has described energy drinks as “readily available legal highs”. We have seen the devastating impact that legal highs have on people’s lives; we have acted on that, and we have to do something about energy drinks. We need to act now to prevent the immediate impacts of energy drinks on our young people and others who consume them regularly in excessive amounts, and to prevent what could be a serious public health problem further down the line. I am happy to support Graeme Dey’s motion.17:35
I join members in thanking Graeme Dey for bringing an important issue to the chamber, and for the content of his speech. Issues that surround possible health risks for young people in Scotland are not to be taken lightly, so I am very encouraged by the cross-party agreement on this issue.
In the past few years, the volume of energy drinks being consumed in the UK has increased enormously. I have different statistics from Mairi Gougeon’s, but they tell the same story. The British Nutrition Foundation says that consumption has increased from 463 million litres in 2010 to a staggering 672 million litres in 2016, and that the figures continue to go the wrong way. The foundation also established that UK adolescents consume the highest amount of energy drinks of the 16 European Union countries that were surveyed, with teenagers drinking 3.1 litres a month compared with the EU average of 2 litres—a staggering 50 per cent more.
If Scottish young people were leading the way in consumption of any other product that had such adverse effects on their health, there would be public outcry and robust legislative change. What is it about energy drinks that means that we are so willing to ignore the hazards?
I praise the actions of retailers. Graeme Dey listed many of them, and in my constituency Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda and Aldi have all taken it upon themselves to ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16s. Welcome though that is, it should not necessarily be voluntary. The EU Food Information Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011) requires that drinks that contain caffeine at more than 150mg per litre state that they do on their label, and say
“High caffeine content. Not recommended for children ... or breast feeding women.”
Caffeine can have adverse effects on our mental health and on the behaviours of young people and others. Labelling is clear about the impact, but there is a case for going further, which I would be interested to explore.
The health risks of having too much caffeine for anyone at any age are widely known. We have had debates before about caffeinated alcohol creating “wired wide-awake drunks”; the mix of caffeine and alcohol is, to be frank, deadly. Why do we allow a child to walk into a shop and purchase a can of Monster, which comes in at a whopping 338.1mg per litre, or Red Bull, with its 319.8mg of caffeine per litre? That level of caffeine in a young and still developing body can have major neurological and cardiovascular side effects. Excessive caffeine consumption—which drinking just one energy drink can be classed as—can cause interrupted sleep, anxiety and behavioural changes. Speaking as a parent and a politician, those are not traits that any of us want to see in our young people as they are growing, learning and sitting exams that will have a huge impact on their futures.
It is vital that drinks that have had caffeine added to them for a physiological side effect be regulated in respect of who can buy them and how much caffeine is allowed. There may be ways round regulations, so we need to turn our attention to that.
Mairi Gougeon pointed out that the same worries exist about the quantities of sugar in energy drinks. The combination of sugar, caffeine and artificial additives creates a cocktail of short and long-term health risks. The British Nutrition Foundation found that a 16-year-old who consumes just one can of energy drink in a day has already exceeded the daily recommended sugar intake. Let me illustrate. Just one can of the energy drink Rockstar has 20 teaspoons of sugar in it. We already have an epidemic of childhood obesity in the country, and it will only continue to rise. Drinking a can of Rockstar is the equivalent of sitting and eating three bars of chocolate in one go. We are complicit in the consumption of energy drinks.
In conclusion, I welcome the voluntary action by supermarkets and others, but I think that Government has a role in education and awareness-raising, in labelling, in setting age restrictions and in changing the recipes and limiting the amount of caffeine in the drinks.
In conclusion, I again thank Graeme Dey—I know that that was two conclusions, Presiding Officer—for raising awareness of this important issue in Parliament.17:40
I join other members in thanking Graeme Dey for bringing forward this topic for debate. It has become a touchstone issue. Many people have written to me about it, and in many ways the issue of energy drinks is an indicator of the health of our wider food culture as well. It also brings into sharp focus the responsibilities of food companies, public institutions and retailers and the kind of action that we need to take on the back of that.
I join members in congratulating The Courier on the can it campaign, which is aimed at getting energy drinks banned in schools. I was delighted about the campaign when it was launched in 2016. Since then, schools across Courier country, from Blairgowrie high school to Wade academy, have backed the ban. The campaign has brought about a much-needed debate about the health impacts of these drinks in classrooms. It has also become a welcome talking point about diet in many families, including my own.
It is clear that energy drinks are not recommended for children. In fact, as we have heard, every can states exactly that on its side. That is no wonder, because regular consumption of high-calorie, high-caffeine energy drinks has been linked to anxiety, behavioural disorders, nausea, tooth decay, obesity and even breathing difficulties.
It must be a nightmare to teach a class that is fuelled on energy drinks, and that cannot be a good environment to learn in either. Therefore I am pleased that the drive for a ban in schools has come not just from teachers but from pupils.
These drinks originated for use in extreme sports, long-distance driving and tiring working environments. They were designed as an artificial fix for flagging concentration and fatigue. They obviously should not be daily breakfast on the way to school, yet we all see the empty cans and bottles that litter our communities. There was a time when a bowl of Ready Brek was the breakfast with magical energy-boosting properties, but that seems to be no more.
Food and drink is a complex issue for young people. It is not just about taste but about the social aspect of school lunch times, as well as the social aspect of the start and end of the school day. When visiting a high school recently during the lunch rush, I was amazed to learn that getting served quickly so that they could get a seat with their mates was the biggest factor in people deciding whether to join the fast-food queue. That choice was not about the food; it was about the social aspects of eating and the kinds of choices that young people make.
We need to listen to the experiences that young people have, understand that having food and drink is sociable and fun, and offer menus and eating experiences throughout the day that provide a healthy but exciting set of choices on a budget. It is perfectly possible to achieve that. Many schools across Scotland are getting the food culture and the sense of choice right. Programmes such as food for life, which is now being extended across Scotland to all 32 local authorities, are doing great work in helping local authorities to develop and evolve school menus over time.
I welcome the fact that, as many members have reflected, major retailers have now banned the sale of these high-caffeine, high-calorie drinks to young people under the age of 16. That is clearly the right thing to do. There is slower progress among convenience stores, with just over half voluntarily banning sales to under 16s. It takes only one local store near a school being prepared to retail energy drinks for it to become the main shop that local children will go to to buy energy drinks, and indeed other foodstuffs that might be unhealthy. The Association of Convenience Stores believes that a ban would be challenging to enforce, but it also acknowledges that the sector is already effective at enforcing age restrictions on a wide range of products, from tobacco to alcohol and fireworks to solvents.
The jury is out on whether a voluntary approach will be effective going forward, but if it is not, a legal ban should be on the cards to get energy drinks out of our school bags for good.17:44
As others have done, I sincerely thank my friend and colleague Graeme Dey for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is on an important issue, and I am delighted that the motion gathered support from members of most of the parties that are represented in the Parliament.
I vividly remember a parliamentary by-election in Aberdeen a number of years ago during which a number of us fuelled ourselves with copious amounts of a particular energy drink. I will not be discourteous and mention its name but, despite the branding, nobody on the campaign team appeared to notice the wings that I had sprouted. Once the campaign was over, I and others who had fuelled themselves thoroughly with the stuff to get ourselves through some very long days found that we had experienced headaches and light-headedness.
That was when I truly became aware of the damaging impact that the stuff was having on my person, and goodness knows what it was doing to others. Therefore, it has long been my view that highly caffeinated food and drink products should not be consumed by children and young people. It is clear to me and to many other members that the artificial increase of a person’s pulse rate through chemical induction cannot be good for anyone, never mind a person who is still in the stages of development.
Graeme Dey spoke of the experiences that teachers in his constituency have had with disruptive pupils who were sold energy drinks down the street at lunch time. I can confirm that that is not just a problem in Angus South. Teachers in my constituency in Stirling know all too well of the detrimental effect of energy drinks on the behaviour of children and young people.
What a potentially devastating prospect it is. The education experiences of children and young people are being impacted on by potentially dangerously high levels of caffeine and even taurine buzzing about in their systems. As we have heard, a report in the BMJ has cited links between the consumption of energy drinks and higher rates of headaches, stomachaches, hyperactivity and insomnia.
The physical damage that can be done through perpetual headaches and stomachaches alongside the altering of a person’s heart rate are bad enough. However, it is now clear that induced hyperactivity and insomnia as a result of consumption of this stuff can pose a real risk to a person’s mental health. Young people who are still developing through their teenage years are particularly vulnerable. Indeed, researchers at the World Health Organization agree that there is a
“proven negative effect of caffeine on children”.
The same researchers recommend that the sale of energy drinks to children and adolescents ought to be restricted, as is rightly highlighted in Graeme Dey’s motion.
How do we tackle the problem? All retailers, from supermarkets to corner shops, should take the lead, and I am delighted that some shops in my constituency have already done so. However, just last week, I passed a self-service checkout in a local supermarket and saw a gentleman who was purchasing energy drinks and who was rather irritated because he had to wait an additional few seconds while checks were carried out. I understand why he was irritated. Some consumers will oppose the moves, because they want their shopping experience to be as smooth as possible. That is understandable, but that inconvenience pales into insignificance when we consider the potential impact that energy drinks are having on the health and education of our children and young people.
The restriction is a necessary measure, and I encourage more retailers in my constituency to take the lead on the issue. That is a start but, for the good of our children and young people, let us do more. In the long term, that might include our legislating, albeit reluctantly, if supermarkets and stores cannot deliver through voluntary action.
I again thank Graeme Dey for bringing this important matter to the chamber for debate.17:49
I, too, thank Graeme Dey for bringing this hugely important debate to the chamber. There is no doubt that energy drinks are a billion-dollar industry and that their popularity keeps growing, despite health concerns. We have heard from members across the chamber tonight about the effects of those energy drinks and the dangers that they pose, particularly for children and teens. In fact, we have probably already heard everything that I am about to say, but I will proceed in any case.
Energy drinks typically contain large amounts of caffeine, added sugar, other additives and legal stimulants, and it is the legal stimulants that can increase alertness, attention and energy, as well as increasing blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate.
The drinks are often used by students to provide an extra boost in energy, but the stimulants in the drinks can have a harmful effect on the nervous system. The potential dangers of energy drinks include dehydration, heart complications such as an irregular heartbeat and heart failure, anxiety and insomnia. Studies have shown that children who consume moderate amounts of caffeine before physical activity can have elevated blood pressure and, in extreme cases involving adults, excessive consumption has led to death.
Children and teenagers are being deceived into drinking large cans of energy drinks, thinking that they will improve their performance at school or during a sports event. In reality, energy drinks are more likely to increase their risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes or dental cavities, which will have lifelong implications for their health. The results of a recent study revealed that energy drink consumers are unaware of the products’ main ingredients, health implications or appropriate serving sizes, which I found very disturbing.
Children and teenagers are the main consumers of energy drinks and they are being subjected to unacceptably high levels of sugar and caffeine. The average sugar content of an energy drink is more than the entire recommended daily maximum for an adult in the UK. That is damning in itself, but what about the children who drink several such drinks through the course of a day?
Energy drinks are marketed for general consumption rather than for athletes, who are targeted with so-called sports drinks. Despite energy drinks with high caffeine levels having to carry a warning that they are not recommended for children or pregnant women—a recent study found that 43 products carrying such warnings each contained the caffeine equivalent of nearly two cups of coffee—a survey of 16 European countries including the UK found that 68 per cent of 11 to 18-year-olds and 18 per cent of children aged 10 and under consume energy drinks, with 11 per cent of adults and 12 per cent of children drinking at least 1 litre at a time. That is utter madness.
Teachers and health professionals have expressed concerns about youngsters relying on the drinks—some start their day with an energy drink as a substitute for breakfast and some have them in their packed lunch—and a survey that was carried out by the make mine milk campaign revealed that one in 20 teenage pupils regularly goes to school on a can of energy drink instead of tucking into a good breakfast.
Chef Jamie Oliver has campaigned for quite some time to see higher standards of meals, as well as scrutinizing packed lunches, and he has repeatedly criticised high-energy drinks. Famously, he said:
“I challenge you to go to any school and open 50 lunchboxes, and I guarantee you there will be one or two cans of Red Bull”.
He has repeatedly voiced serious concern that the drinks are turning our kids into addicts and has referenced teachers having to plan lessons around students being high. Jamie Oliver summed up the selling of energy drinks to children very effectively when he claimed that children rely on an energy drink to give them the boost that they need to get up in the morning, and that they experience a low when the effects of their sugar and caffeine wear off, so they have another in the afternoon before finishing off the day with a final can. That yo-yo of highs and lows makes youngsters feel lethargic the next morning, which prompts them to reach for another energy drink and the cycle begins again.
The facts about the content of energy drinks and the ease with which young people have access to them are alarming, and I congratulate all the major supermarkets that have been instrumental in supporting the ban on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s, as well as the independent retailers in Scotland that have also supported the ban. I acknowledge and thank everyone in the retail sector who has pledged to implement the ban.17:54
Like other members, I congratulate Graeme Dey on bringing this issue to the Parliament. Mr Dey has campaigned on the subject for many years in Angus and nationally and, in part, it is thanks to him that there has been a welcome shift in the approach of retailers to the sale of energy drinks. He has truly rolled up his sleeves and got on with helping to kick-start a shift in encouraging responsible retailing and improving our nation’s health. I underline my thanks to Graeme Dey for bringing his motion to the chamber and giving us all an opportunity to talk about our concerns and, where possible, where solutions lie.
Many other members from across the chamber have also been involved in showing leadership, and I have thoroughly appreciated the constructive tone taken in the debate, as well as the views and ideas that members have shared with us.
Brian Whittle noted what he had seen at a polling station. We similarly heard about a political theme from Bruce Crawford, who suggested that he grew some wings in order to continue his canvassing. Maybe that explains why he is so fleet at getting up those closes when we are out canvassing. I hope that he sticks to good old-fashioned soup and a cup of coffee or tea at the next by-election, wherever that may be.
The topic is of significant concern to our society, especially to parents, teachers and young people. I am a parent. My wee boy has yet to hit those years where he is more susceptible to purchasing energy drinks. Although we want to and must do all that we can for children and young people in the here and now, the culture change that we want must include a large preventative element, to ensure that younger children grow up in an environment that is conducive to good health. In that way, the benefits would be long term and generational.
The health and wellbeing of our young people is a responsibility that we all share. It transcends party politics, which is probably why tonight’s debate has been so constructive. Improving the Scottish diet is important. Our forthcoming diet and healthy weight delivery plan reflects the priority that we attach to the issue. As members know from the Deputy First Minister’s launch of the consultation on school food last week, it is a top priority for Government more generally. The issue cuts across portfolios and dealing with it in that way reflects an attempt to encourage good health and wellbeing and requires us to use all the levers that we have across Government.
Our proposed amendments to the school food and drink regulations would move them closer to the Scottish dietary goals. They would see a tightening of the stringent standards by restricting sugar-free drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine a litre in secondary schools. We also propose that primary schools should be allowed to serve only water and plain milk or milk alternatives.
The regulations do not allow any energy drinks to be made available at any time in school, and schools are encouraged to consider their health promotion duties when setting their own policies about what products they allow their pupils to bring into the school.
I welcome moves that have been taken by schools, such as St Ninian’s high school in Kirkintilloch or Blairgowrie high school in Perthshire, to restrict energy drinks. Mairi Gougeon mentioned the measures that have been taken by Forfar academy, which I also welcome. We should support those schools, share that good practice and celebrate the priority that they place on good health.
I very much liked Mark Ruskell’s contribution on the culture of eating food in school. It is important that we change the culture so that there is more enjoyment of food in the school setting. We could, for example, slow down the pace at which children and young people have their school dinners.
Although the European Food Safety Authority has confirmed that energy drinks are safe to consume, everyone, including the British Soft Drinks Association, acknowledges that they should not be marketed to those under 16. As Mairi Gougeon, Jackie Baillie and others have mentioned, aside from their caffeine content, many energy drinks contain extremely high levels of added sugar. Indeed, a 500ml bottle could contain about double the daily recommended maximum for an adult.
Many members have linked energy drinks more generally to wider health concerns. In Scotland, as others have pointed out, 29 per cent of children are at risk of becoming overweight; that includes 14 per cent who are at risk of becoming obese. Evidence shows that obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and become more likely to suffer health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, at a younger age.
We have set a guiding ambition to halve child obesity in Scotland by 2030. In the new diet and healthy weight delivery plan, I will outline the necessary actions to achieve that and to help everybody make healthier choices about food and drink. We will also be cognisant of the call to weave in what we have heard this evening about energy drinks and ensuring that, as Brian Whittle and others have said, we use every platform that we have to ensure consistency across all that we do.
It is not just our children’s health that should concern us, but their ability to learn. Teachers in particular have expressed concern through their trade unions about the potential impact on attainment.
Graeme Dey articulated the concern about not just the ability of children to learn but their behaviour more generally, which he picked up from the discussions that he has had with his local school, as did Bruce Crawford. A 2016 study that looked at more than 2,000 children found that energy drink consumption was consistently associated with low school performance, so we are right to be concerned. That shows that we must make sure that we consistently use the platforms that we have across Government to make the impact that we all agree needs to be made.
I am confident that schools up and down the country are taking appropriate steps to tackle the issue but, of course, the work that schools do is only one part of the solution. Retailers around schools must act responsibly, which is why I welcome the recent statement by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. We will continue to work with the Scottish Grocers Federation on help that we can provide to convenience stores on how to restrict sales of energy drinks; Graeme Dey and Mark Ruskell raised that issue. Other retailers have taken voluntary action to ban the sale of energy drinks to young people under the age of 16. We sincerely thank all those that have done so and urge any that have not yet made that commitment to do so as soon as possible.
As members know, reshaping the food environment is a key programme for government commitment. Research that was commissioned by the Government that explores the relationship between the food environment and the planning system is drawing to a close. That research considers how the planning system can best support the creation of an improved food environment in Scotland, including in the area around schools, and it identifies effective and less-effective approaches that have been taken elsewhere. As I have said many times, it is a case of using all the levers across Government to have a positive influence on good health in our communities.
Society is not just about school or the school environment, so we need to look beyond schools. My officials have started discussions with Sporta, which is the co-ordinating body for leisure trusts, on whether measures can be taken by its members to place age restrictions on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s. Such action has already been taken by Edinburgh Leisure and West Lothian Leisure, and I commend them for doing so. Sporta’s members manage around 1,300 facilities in Scotland that include everything from gyms to museums, which a considerable number of young people visit, so that is an important development that we will continue to pursue.
I again thank Graeme Dey for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue and the chance to demonstrate the Government’s on-going commitment to supporting young people in making healthier choices. What better year to do that than in the year of young people. Scotland is at its best when we work together, whether with our health boards, our schools, our local authorities or with retailers and manufacturers. If we work collectively on the issue, we can take the action that needs to be taken. That is why the work that Graeme Dey has been doing to apply pressure and to encourage voluntary action is good. We can consider what else we need to do in the future, but the success that we are having in the here and now can be built on as we seek to create the healthier Scotland that all of us agree needs to be achieved.Meeting closed at 18:03.