Wednesday, May 15, 2019

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: One Sweet Tea at a Time

"Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) — nondiet soda, fruit drinks that are not 100% juice, sweet tea, sports drinks, and energy drinks — are the largest source of added sugars in the diet of US adults (1). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data showed that 49.3% of US adults consumed 1 or more SSBs on a given day during 2011–2014 (2). Frequent SSB consumption is associated with increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and dental caries."
                            —CDC RESEARCH BRIEF — Volume 15 — December 13, 2018

PCD Visual Abstract

Every workshop we teach in the Growing Healthy Kids project includes direct and/or indirect messages about avoiding added sugars in what we eat and drink.  We teach kids about the importance of reading food labels, avoiding foods that contain “high fructose corn syrup” and other sugars such as those that end in “-ose”. 

Teaching kids about making healthy food and drink choices is easy when they are surrounded by positive role models and can engage in hands-on learning.  On more than one occasion, however, I have intervened with adult and teen volunteers who showed up to help, not with a water bottle but with a soda in hand.  With a graceful nod to step outside, we quickly address the importance of not consuming SSBs before the kids arrive for class.  We explain that they volunteered to assist at a healthy eating workshop, not a class about how to develop a chronic disease like diabetes or arthritis.  We politely ask volunteers to leave the beverage in their car.  As much as we depend on volunteers to assist in all our workshops, we also need everyone to model the good behaviors.  So far, we have not lost a volunteer.  They have all heeded the message.  

As noted above by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49.3% of US adults consumed 1 or more sugar-sweetened beverages on a given day in 2011-2014.   No wonder kids think nothing of drinking sweet tea, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and nondiet sodas.  Half of US adults drink 1 or more of them every day.  

In the south, where I live, I am frequently asked to health coach people who have diabetes.  One of the first assessments I use determines what they drink.  My anecdotal observation is that most people in the south who drink sweet tea most every day would rather die from diabetes complications than give up their sweet tea before they have a meaningful diabetes education intervention.  They have no idea how much sugar is in one 12 ounce serving of restaurant-made sweet tea.  They don't ask, they don't read food labels if they buy a bottle of sweetened tea at the corner convenient market, and they don't want to know.  Once we enter a health coaching relationship, the light comes on and they become health literate, able to make informed decisions about how much added sugar they want to eat and drink vs preventing an amputation of a toe or limb, erectile dysfunction, or a heart attack as a result of uncontrolled diabetes.  

Until adults are willing to start making simple changes like switching to unsweetened iced tea, kids will need better informed role models if we are going to have an impact on the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the diseases associated with increased consumption of sugar. 

Please pass the unsweet tea.

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids