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'We’re behind the eight-ball' – health professor says NZ should follow UK ban on sale of energy drinks to teens

A Kiwi health professor has accused the government and retail industry of being "behind the eight ball" when it comes to protecting teens form sugary energy drinks.

Otago University Professor of public health Tony Blakely applauded the upcoming ban by UK supermarkets on the sale of high caffeine and sugar energy drinks to those under the age of 16.

"It's fascinating, yes it is about time, but the UK's several years ahead of us on the whole sugar drinks scenario, things are unfolding rapidly, we're behind the eight ball here now," Professor Blakely told TVNZ 1's Breakfast. 

In the UK, there is regulation both from the government, who is enforcing a sugar tax as of April 1, and the supermarkets who are implementing their own energy drink restrictions.

Professor Blakely said the motivation from UK supermarkets to place their own ban on the sale of "crap" sugary drinks to kids was intriguing because it seemed to fly in the face of their corporate interests.

But he stopped short of saying the move was purely morally driven.

"It's very interesting, they may have done a social responsibility thing, but I'm sure they did the calculations too on the maths here and there's probably a strong incentive for them to do it because the consumer will support it," Professor Blakely said.

"They don't want kids buying this stuff and they realise society's changing and it's time they got in behind and did some of the leadership as well."

However, Professor Blakely wasn't confident similar restrictions would follow in New Zealand.

"Could this happen in New Zealand? Not sure, it would require Progressive (Enterprises) and Foodstuffs to do it simultaneously probably, but legally as I understand it could happen here if the supermarkets chose to do it," he said.

Otago University Professor of public health Tony Blakely says kids shouldn’t be drinking “crap” sugary energy drinks. Source: Breakfast