Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kicking the can

It’s not news that kids in the United States, and adults for that matter, are drinking too much soda.

It’s also not news that soda is one of the easiest culprits to blame for overweight and obesity, as the “liquid candy” is so ubiquitous and nutritionally barren. But presenters at yesterday afternoon’s session on reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages are doing something about it. They shared their interventions to improve kids’ diets and offered some lessons learned.

It sounds simple, but encouraging after-school programs to serve water instead of soda or juice can lower overall calorie consumption, as the calories from beverages are typically not replaced by other foods. Caregivers can be encouraged to institutionalize this change, which is important because of the high turnover rates of after-school programs. Simple, repeated messaging and reinforcement of the cost savings of water compared to sugar-sweetened beverages is also an effective tactic. Overall, something as straightforward as encouraging a switch to water at places where kids learn and play can be a tool for preventing obesity and encouraging positive dietary habits at a young age.

While one intervention focused on promoting the virtues of water, an effort in the San Francisco Bay Area took the alternate approach — urging people to pledge to cut out soda for an entire summer.

The Bay Area Nutrition and Physical Activity Collaborative (BANPAC) conducted a “Soda Free Summer” campaign during the summer of 2008, urging area residents to take a pledge and “rethink their drink.” BANPAC involved more than 100 organizations in the six bay area counties and distributed pledge cards, promotional materials and hosted educational workshops on how to “Be Sugar Savvy.”

Post-intervention interviews found that the majority of those surveyed remembered the campaign, and two-thirds of respondents said they made a behavior change toward better health during the campaign. Almost half, at 47 percent, reported drinking less soda and sports drinks.

Liz Craypo, of Samuels and Associates, who helped organize and evaluate the “Soda Free Summer” campaign, said the campaign was a successful model that can be used as a foundation for further healthy food policy changes.

Addressing year-round change was one recommendation by campaign organizers and residents alike.

Regardless of the season, “there’s really no place for soda in a kid’s diet,” Craypo said.

— P.T.

Image by Brandon Glenn, courtesy iStockphoto

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