Students in 2 Appalachian Ohio high schools help reduce classmates’ consumption of sugary drinks, a bane in the region

In a region where sweet-tea and soda is more popular than water, student-led groups in Appalachian Ohio were successful in reducing the amount of sugary drinks students consumed, reports The Ohio State University‘s Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

As part of the study, student-led teen advisory councils in the two Southern Ohio high schools implemented a 30-day intervention called “Sodabriety” to reduce the amount of sugary drinks students consumed. Results of the study were published in the March issue of the Journal of School Health.

The councils informed students about the risks of sugary drinks, put green ribbons on students’ cars to remind them of the dangers, offered daily “sugar facts” during the morning announcements, performed soda-themed rap songs at student events and gave away water bottles with a “What’s in your cup?” slogan.

The efforts paid off. Not only did some teens completely give up sugared drinks, but water consumption nearly doubled. Some students even reported weight loss, less acne and increased energy, Smith said.

A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories. A 64-ounce fountain cola drink could have up to 700 calories, says a fact sheet from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Kentucky high-school students rank third in the U.S. in obesity, with 33.4 percent overweight or obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consumption of sugary beverages is a problem in Appalachia, where obesity contributes heavily to the region’s health issues.

“Teens who 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 nurse Laureen Smith, one of the researchers. “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.”

Smith added, “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. 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.”

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