How Sweet it Isn’t: The Lowdown on Sugary Drinks

  • shelves of sugary drinks

Sugary drinks and sodas contribute to obesity, risk of diabetes, tooth decay, and other health issues. For the fitness and health conscious, this may seem like common knowledge but not so much for the rest of the population. There are many households and communities where soda and other sugary drinks are a daily beverage preferred over water, and sometimes even poured into a toddler’s “sippy cup.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, drinking sugary drinks contributes to obesity and increased risk of diabetes. A recent study showed that people who drank 1-2, 12-ounce cans of sugary drinks per day had a 26% chance of developing type 2 diabetes. The Guardian emphasized another recent report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommending reducing intake of sugary drinks to prevent obesity, risk of diabetes, tooth decay, and other health issues.

About 64% of San Antonio residents drink soda every day. San Antonio also has high rates of diabetes in its community, and is one of the cities with the highest rate of obesity in the U.S. Also a national issue, obesity rates exceed 30% in Texas and and other southern states.

To address these issues, the city recently launched a campaign to educate residents about just how much sugar is in a can of soda. However, the campaign got off to a rocky start.

It all began when Dr. Thomas Schlenker, practicing pediatrician and Director of San Antonio Metro Health Department, paved the way for the campaign a year ago while addressing the City Council. He proposed a campaign linking San Antonio’s obesity epidemic with sugary drinks such as soda.packets of sugar for sugary drinks

Initially, some of the City Council members were in opposition to targeting soft drinks because of their own sugary drink habits and questioned involvement of city government in public health and anti-obesity campaigns. The City also cited improvements in the past several years following launch of a city-wide initiative to increase health awareness in the community. City officials thought the campaign should focus more on a positive educational approach such as promoting benefits of drinking more water.

Dr. Schlenker emphasized the importance of tackling over-consumption of sugary drinks and soda, largely fueled by the industry’s $3 billion marketing (which is, incidentally, primarily focused on youth and minorities). “Drinking soda every day is strongly associated with obesity. We have to focus on a simple and direct message to stop that bad habit” he stated.

This campaign’s first attempt fizzled after concerns from Coca-Cola about negative soft drink messaging. Although unusual to include the very product under scrutiny in a campaign of this type, the City Council required consultation with a Coca-Cola representative to design appropriate soft drink messaging.

A short while later, the campaign’s second attempt was rebranded and launched successfully under the Bexar Healthy Beverage Coalition. The new campaign features candid messaging on a website with a YouTube video showing a teenager knocking back one after another of those little sugar packets we normally use for coffee at the local diner, with a tag line “You’d never drink 16 packs of sugars.” Sitting between him are two other teens looking askance while drinking sodas in a glass.loads of sugar for sugary drinks

The sugar-packed website urges viewers to think twice before reaching for that sugary drink or soda. Charts compare the number of sugar packets in a cola (16), an energy drink (16), orange drink (13), and sweet tea (11), while explaining the consequences of consuming sugar-packed drinks on a daily basis.

Viewers can try out the sugar calculator, read about a weight loss success story from the Mayor, and learn about healthier beverage choices such as water, Seltzer, unsweetened tea, and nonfat milk. If you’d like to see the campaign for yourself, I suggest starting with the catchy video below.

Author: Kathryn Thomsen

Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. Kathryn is a social entrepreneur, consultant, researcher, writer and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.

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