Can a little Beatles wisdom help address the nation's childhood obesity crisis? New research out of Ohio State University suggests the answer is yes. Medical investigators have found teenagers can be persuaded to cut back on sugary soft drinks — with a little help from their friends.
It also increased by two-thirds the percentage of high-school students who shunned sugary drinks altogether.
Students were enlisted to create teen advisory councils, whose members led the interventions at two rural Appalachian high schools. They designed marketing campaigns, planned school assemblies, and shared facts about the health risks of sugar-sweetened drinks over morning announcements.
The primary message: Try to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverage — including regular soft drinks, sweet tea, fruit drinks, sports beverages, energy drinks, flavored or sweetened milk, coffee with sugar, and other coffee drinks — for 30 days.
As a result of the program, the percentage of teens who abstained from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increased from 7.2 percent to 11.8 percent of the participants for 30 days. At the same time, water consumption increased significantly by 60 days after the start of the program, even without any promotion of water as a substitute for sugar-sweetened drinks. Nearly 190 students participated in the challenge.
"The students' water consumption before the intervention was lousy. I don't know how else to say it. But we saw a big improvement in that," said Laureen Smith, associate professor of nursing at Ohio State and lead author of the study. "And there was a huge reduction in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. The kids were consuming them fewer days per week and when they were consuming these drinks, they had fewer servings."
The study was published in the Journal of School Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of youths — especially teens – consume sugar-sweetened beverages daily, and these drinks add up to 28 percent of their daily calorie intake.
"We're teaching kids to help themselves, and it's a really cost-effective way of promoting health and delivering a message," Smith said. "We tend to think first of risky behaviors when we study adolescents, but they do positive things, too. With the right guidance and support, they are powerful influencers. We might as well use peer pressure to our advantage."
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