GP spearheads indefinite energy drink ban for kids

Michelle Wisbey

1/08/2023 4:42:33 PM

A regional WA GP is at the centre of a campaign to ban the sale of energy drinks to young people, with her hometown leading the way.

Western Australia GP Sarah Youngson
Western Australia GP Sarah Youngson is spearheading a campaign to ban the sale of energy drinks to young people.

In the Western Australian community of Bridgetown, around three hours southeast of Perth, retailers have agreed to stop selling energy drinks to anyone under the age of 18.
An initial four-month trial, which was spearheaded by local GP Dr Sarah Youngson after being approached by residents worried about the increase in energy drink consumption by young people, is now carrying on indefinitely.
‘They were concerned that this was leading to some antisocial behaviour at our local skatepark and asked me if there was anything we could do as a community to address this,’ Dr Youngson told newsGP.
‘I was certainly seeing the impact of energy drink consumption on young people’s mental health in my practice as a GP with a special interest in adolescent health.
‘It was contributing to anxiety, impacting on young people’s sleep and causing insomnia, leading to them not being able to get out of bed in the morning, causing poor school attendance and setting up a cycle of poor health.’
Recent research from the Telethon Kids Institute’s Amped Up study has indicated more than half of all young people who consume energy drinks suffer negative health effects.
The study surveyed 3688 Western Australian high school students, with preliminary results finding around one quarter of all children questioned had experienced heart palpitations, trouble sleeping, headaches, or upset stomachs.
The data comes with energy drinks sales skyrocketing in Australia, rising by almost 9% in 2022 alone.
The spike comes as several beverage brands, including ‘Prime’, go viral across social media, with one study confirming energy drinks are branded to appeal to young people and commonly associated with events such as extreme sports or music festivals.
But Dr Youngson welcomed her town being ‘overwhelmingly supportive’ of the ban.
‘In fact, the trial period ended in June and the community has backed an ongoing indefinite ban on the sale of energy drinks to children and young people,’ she said.
‘Our community is proud of being ground breakers in this important public health issue. They can see the positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our young people.’
Dr Youngson would now like to see other towns follow suit. 
‘We hope the results will support policy change that sees energy drinks banned for all young people under 18 across the country,’ she said.
‘In the short term, there is nothing stopping individual communities from instituting their own restrictions.’
As the healthcare professional behind the Bridgetown trial, Dr Youngson said it was a privilege being a GP, and being able to connect and lead within her own community.
‘I don’t believe it’s every GP’s role or responsibility to create change, but our role does provide opportunities to address health and wellbeing issues that are experienced in our communities,’ she said.
‘I feel incredibly proud to be a part of a community that has taken positive and proactive steps towards supporting the health and wellbeing of the children and young people in our town.’
It comes amid a number of measures to improve the health of Australian young people, with 96% of children aged 5–14 not eating enough vegetables, and one quarter of young people in the same age bracket now overweight or obese.
In 2021, the sale of sugary drinks was banned in Western Australia’s hospital cafes and vending machines.
In June, a private member’s bill outlining measures to curb the reach of junk food advertising was tabled in Federal Parliament.
The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill, put forward by former GP and current independent MP Dr Sophie Scamps, proposes stopping junk food advertising from 6.00 am – 9.30 pm, as well as a complete ban on the marketing of junk food on social media.
The Bill is set to be debated at a later date, while the final results of the Amped Up study due to be released by the end of the year.
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