Cutting back on sugar intake has a number of health benefits. And it’s important to develop those healthy eating habits in growing teens.
In an attempt to curb consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among high school students, researchers looked for a student-driven solution.
In a limited pilot program, in which students themselves highlighted the unhealthy aspects of sugary drinks, these researchers saw teens cut consumption of sugar from soda, fruit drinks and other sweetened beverages. Consumption of water also increased during the research effort, results showed.
This study suggests that peer-based intervention, led by teens and geared toward teens, could effectively help reduce intake of sugary drinks among high school-aged youths.
Laureen Smith, PhD, an associate professor of nursing at The Ohio State University, and Christopher Holloman, PhD, also an associate professor at The Ohio State University, conducted this research.
Drs. Smith and Holloman started a pilot intervention program at two high schools that began with establishing teen advisory councils.
From there, the students involved designed marketing campaigns, planned school assemblies and shared daily facts about sugary drinks over the morning announcements.
All the material encouraged high schoolers to reduce the sugary drinks they consumed for 30 days.
One component included students keeping a daily log tracking their beverage intake.
The researchers organized 186 students and surveyed them about vending machines access, beverage options and sugar-sweetened beverage drinking habits.
Before the intervention, 41 percent of students reported buying sugary drinks from vending machines at schools. Of the 186, 63 percent reported consuming sweetened beverages at least three days a week.
One month after the 30-day intervention, the researchers found that almost 60 percent of the same students drank sugary beverages fewer than three days each week. The students showed nearly a 30 percent reduction in overall days per week that they drank sugary beverages.
Drs. Smith and Holloman found that the intervention reduced average daily servings of sugar-sweetened beverages by about 8 ounces per day.
This study defined sugar-sweetened drinks as soft drinks, sweet tea, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored or sweetened milk, coffee with sugar and other types of coffee-based drinks.
“[T]here was a huge reduction in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption,” Dr. Smith said in a press statement. "The kids were consuming them fewer days per week and when they were consuming these drinks, they had fewer servings.
“We’re teaching kids to help themselves, and it’s a really cost-effective way of promoting health and delivering a message,” she said. “We tend to think first of risky behaviors when we study adolescents, but they do positive things, too. We might as well use peer pressure to our advantage.”
Another study finding showed that water consumption increased by 30 percent from the start of the study to the time the challenge ended.
“The students’ water consumption before the intervention was lousy,” Dr. Smith said. “I don’t know how else to say it. But we saw a big improvement in that.”
Dr. Smith concluded that student-led efforts to change behavior, in this case consumption of sugary drinks, were both feasible and effective in her study.
This work was supported by a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences to Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science.
The study was published in the Journal of School Health.