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Empowering and Evidence Led
  • How do you improve outcomes for teenagers and young people?

  • How can you support them to make better decisions around drugs, alcohol, vaping and other risky behaviour?

  • The teenage brain is wired to take risks, so how can we give our young people freedom and choice while also keeping them safe?

An approach from Iceland, called Planet Youth, is being trialled in Scotland to help us answer these questions. It’s all about empowering teenagers, using robust evidence to aid decision making.

What is Planet Youth?

Planet Youth is an approach that starts with listening to the needs of young people to understand the challenges they face, and working together to make things better.  ​

It’s used all over the world to bring people together to help young people make better life and lifestyle choices, reducing alcohol and drug use, and creating more positive environments at school, home and in the community.

The approach enables families, schools and local services to create positive changes around our young people. This focuses on life in school, at home, with friends and during free time.

A large part of Planet Youth is spent helping mums and dads and carers understand their positive influence on the young people in their care.  

And it also involves the whole community, from schools to clubs to local neighbourhoods, to play their part in bringing up the next generation. ‘’It takes a village to raise a child.‘’

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Does it make a difference?

Yes. It’s a prevention programme that instigated major improvements in the health and wellbeing of teenagers in Iceland, including a huge drop in substance use, increased physical activity levels and families spending more time together. 

20 years ago, Icelandic teenagers were taking lots of risks around alcohol, drugs and smoking, and now they are labelled the ‘cleanest living in Europe’.


​Below are the latest results from Iceland, showing the dramatic decrease in teen substance use since the inception of Plant Youth in Iceland.

Latest Iceland Graph (003).JPG
What's the progress with Planet Youth?

Even before Covid-19, Scotland’s young people were struggling – showing signs of regression in areas such as academic attainment, mental and physical health and employability skills. However, these issues have been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic.

In 2019 a small group of forward thinking local authority partnerships  joined Winning Scotland, a charity that catalyses change, incubating new ideas, to undertake a pilot to consider how the lessons from Planet Youth could be applied here.

Recognising the transformative potential of Planet Youth, and the long term perspective needed, this initial partnership invested in research and tests of change across 5 local areas:

  • Argyll & Bute Alcohol and Drug Partnership and Argyll & Bute Education 

  • Clackmannanshire Council

  • Dundee City Council

  • Highland Alcohol and Drug Partnership and Highland Health and Social Care Partnership

  • West Dunbartonshire Health and Social Care Partnership


The founding partners believe introducing the model to Scotland could help create the conditions that will allow young people to lead fulfilling lives and feel supported by their family, school and community. This in turn will empower them to make positive, informed decisions relating to their health, lifestyle and education.

Eve MacLeod

Senior Health Improvement Specialist, NHS Highland

We’re driving forward with Planet Youth because we want our young people to feel supported, connected, healthy, and confident in their ability to make positive decisions. And ultimately, we want to see a reduction in the use of and harm from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and all the associated benefits that can come from that.

Parent, The Highlands

This is an excellent and brave idea! A lot of these aspirations fit well with my own and how the community could help young people.

The first surveys were completed in 2021. 1,827 pupils from across the 13 schools, were asked  about their health and mental wellbeing, revealing a number of needs and challenges, including:


  • 34% of teenagers who have been drunk in the last 30 days have also experienced verbal abuse and 50% are in violent households.

  • 90% of teenagers who think there is a lot to do in their local community don’t use cannabis. We see higher cannabis and alcohol use among teenagers who either don’t feel there is anything to do in their local area, or where there are barriers to access, like cost or travel.

  • And we know that teenagers whose parents don’t know where they are in the evening are three times more likely to have been drunk in the past 30 days

  • More positively, 91% say it is easy to receive care and warmth from their parents/families, 85% of parents and carers know where their children are in the evenings and 71% report it is easy to discuss personal matters with their parent(s).

  • Of the 2 in 5 children who have self-harmed, 30% have been drunk in the past 30 days and 21% have used cannabis.


Young people who haven't had these kinds of experiences are 20% less likely to use alcohol and cannabis.

What's next?

Thanks to seed investment from the Scottish Government, Planet Youth in Scotland is set to scale and strengthen the pilot in and beyond the 5 areas, impacting more young people and enabling more local systems change.

Locally, each of the founding partners is building local coalitions – groups of parents, charities, community groups, statutory agencies to proactively consider responses to the data collected, and to plan for the next tranche of information which will be collected in September of this year.


You can find out more about what’s happening locally here:

Please note that Winning Scotland is not responsible for the content of external websites. 

You can learn more about the general background of Planet Youth below:

  • This 90-second video from the World Economic Forum summarises the Iceland story

  • And this excerpt from the globally successful book, Upstream, offers a succinct and inspirational insight into how taking a prevention approach achieved such great success in Iceland. 

  • This Independent article (originally published in Mosaic Science) offers more detail on the Icelandic approach and how the movement has grown around the world.

  • This interview with Planet Youth's chief communications officer, Thorfinnur Skulason (conducted by our supporters at Baillie Gifford), provides a first person account of the changes in Iceland and how they might be applied in Scotland.

  • Scottish feasibility study was conducted by the University of Stirling, stating: The findings highlight the desire for higher prioritisation of universal primary prevention activities in Scotland, driven by concerns about high rates of substance use and related harms, and a general lack of effective and evidence based prevention activities across the country. There was support for the IM [Icelandic Model] as long as it was culturally appropriate and properly funded. Participants were clear that if the IM were introduced in Scotland, it would need to be piloted in several areas first.

  • The University's research has also been published by the BMC Public Health journal. See the full report here

Get in touch 

It doesn’t matter which sector you’re in or what  job you do, Planet Youth has the potential to positively impact us all.


So, if you’re interested in how to change the culture for Scotland’s young people, and give them a happier, healthier future, email

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