With global hike in sugar intake, city wants change

A new campaign seeks to teach local community members about healthier options for beverages.

Eliana Schreiber

Global consumption of sugary drinks is rushing upward, but it is decreasing in the U.S., according to a study from the University of North Carolina.
Still, close to three-quarters of the U.S. food supply contains some amount of caloric or low-calorie sweeteners. The country remains one of the top countries in the world in added sugar consumption, the report said.
Because of health risks posed by sugary beverages, the Minneapolis Health Department created a campaign called Rethink Your Drink, aimed at reducing the consumption of sugary beverages. 
The campaign, which launched this summer, educates citizens and businesses about the negative health effects of sugary drinks and encourages healthier choices, Minneapolis public health specialist Vish Vasani said.
Sugary drinks include soda as well as other beverages like sports drinks, energy drinks, juice drinks, sweet teas and flavored milks, Vasani said.
“Anything that has added sugar in it is considered a sugary drink,” she said. “Your body needs zero [added] sugar. That’s just a fact.”
Added sugar is sugar that doesn’t occur naturally in food.
Low-income and minority communities are more likely to consume sugary drinks regularly, which is why education is especially important when it comes to sugary beverages, Vasani said.
But upper-income white households, especially parents with children, have significantly reduced their sugar consumption, said Barry Popkin, a UNC nutrition and economics professor and the paper’s author. They tend to be more aware of health concerns and have the education and income to change habits, he said.
He said 74 percent of food and drink products in American grocery stores contain added sugars.
“Even the averages kind of belie the big problem, which is that we have a subgroup of children and young adults who are killing themselves with [sugar],” he said, “which is why diabetes in adolescence and young adults is skyrocketing in our country.”
Minority communities are also more at risk for obesity and other related chronic diseases, Vasani said. That’s why the Rethink Your Drink campaign partnered with organizations that serve Latino, African-American, American-Indian and Hmong communities, she said.
Each organization is working with other organizations within their particular communities to raise awareness about healthier drink options, Vasani said.
After initial success with the communities of color, Vasani said the campaign decided to expand its reach to the park board, local hospitals, youth organizations and other city departments.
One of the current partners working with the MHD is Children’s Dental Services, a Minneapolis-based dental association with clinics in more than 500 locations across the state.
The association specializes in working with underserved children and communities of color, senior manager and licensed dental assistant Natalie Kaweckyj said.
Signage for the campaign in clinics help spark interest in it, and Children’s Dental Services employees make an effort to ask patients about their dietary habits, Kaweckyj said.
Kaweckyj said the clinic encourages patients to restrict consumption of sugary beverages to mealtime.
Sugary drinks can be just as dangerous to teeth health as candy, she said.
“Typically somebody will drink a can of soda or a bottle of soda, and they’ll sip it over time,” Kaweckyj said. “And that’s actually worse for your teeth than if you were to drink the entire bottle in a short period of time.”
The acidity of sugary drinks fuels bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to cavities, she said.