America is a country with an epidemic childhood and teen obesity rate. A community in Appalachia decided to intervene to challenge its status as the nation’s largest consumers of sugary drinks. Numerous studies have documented the numerous negative health effects of sugar sweetened beverage consumption.
Community deaths in Appalachia have been related to obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Local teens decided to take the matter in their own hands and developed a program with the assistance of researchers including Laureen Smith, RN, PHD, a researcher from the Ohio State University.
The 30 day program asked teens from two Ohio high schools to develop and lead educational campaigns targeting teens to reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and tee and to drink unsweetened beverages. The campaign was so successful that water consumption doubled and many teens gave up sugared drinks.
Teens had insight into what message and campaign would appeal to their peers and developed a variety of ways to educate peers about sugared drinks ranging from ribboning students’ cars and including daily “sugar facts” during morning announcements, to performing soda themed rap songs at student events and giving away free water bottles emblazoned with a ‘what’s in your cup?’ slogan. The students also encouraged their classmates to choose water or diet versions of sugared drinks.
At the beginning of the challenge, the average number of daily sugared drinks dropped from nearly 2.5 servings to 1.3, and the number of days students reported having a sugary drink dropped from 4 days a week to 2 days. Water consumption increased nearly 30 percent from baseline.
“Teens that grow up in this region are ultimately more likely to die from cancer, diabetes and heart disease than any other place in the nation, and obesity is the common risk factor for all of those illnesses,” said Smith. “A child’s odds of becoming obese increases almost two times with each additional daily serving of a sugar sweetened drink, and Appalachian kids drink more of these types of beverages than kids in other parts of the country.”
“Sugar sweetened beverages are the largest source of sugar in the American diet. For some teens, they account for almost one-third of daily caloric intake, and that amount is even higher among Appalachian adolescents,” said Smith, who is also an associate professor of Ohio State’s College of Nursing “If we can help teens reduce sugared-beverage intake now, we might be able to help them avoid obesity and other diseases later in life.”
The changes in soda consumption and the effects of the program remained after the program had ended.
“We found that the changes in sugared drink and water consumption remained relatively stable without any intervention from the program’s teacher coordinators or the research group. They kids were doing it on their own,” said Smith.
“We had students tell us about significant weight loss, increased energy, even a reduction in acne. We heard that prom organizers decided to offer water bottles along with punch. Another group started an exercise club,” recalled Smith. Seeing these kids continue to make healthy choices and let them influence other parts of their lives is truly amazing, and it’s worth seeing how we might be able to replicate that.”
Laureen H. Smith, Christopher Holloman. Piloting “Sodabriety”: A School-Based Intervention to Impact Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in Rural Appalachian High Schools. Journal of School Health, 2014; 84 (3): 177 DOI: 10.1111/josh.12134