Two years after the launch of a community-wide public health campaign to promote healthy lifestyle choices and stem growing rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases in Howard County, early results show a significant decline in sales of sugary drinks — the largest single source of added sugar in diets — that outpaces national trends.
Consumers in Howard County are increasingly reaching past unhealthy sugary drinks to select healthier alternatives, according to just-released data from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. Over the past year, sales of top soda brands have dropped 4.1 percent in Howard County versus a decline of 1.3 percent nationally.
“Based on our preliminary analysis, it appears that soda consumption is declining in Howard County at two to three times the national rate,” said Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD and Director of the Rudd Center. “Howard County residents are cutting out sugary drinks faster than the rest of the country and that’s great news for the health of local children and families. We’ll continue to analyze the data to see whether there were similar declines in fruit, sport, and energy drink consumption. So far, the data look encouraging.”
During the last two years, Howard County residents, businesses, and organizations have partnered to make healthy beverage options more widely available, accessible, and affordable. Howard’s schools, hospital, and many faith and community groups have opted to expand the healthy choices they serve. Howard County Unsweetened, a multi-faceted education campaign spearheaded by the Horizon Foundation, has helped residents find alternatives to sugary drinks.
“We salute all the moms, dads, kids and others who are embracing healthy choices and healthy lifestyles,” said Nicolette Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO of the Horizon Foundation, which sponsors Howard County Unsweetened. “With sales of sugary drinks declining significantly in recent years, we have a unique opportunity to bolster this trend by making healthy choices even more accessible, affordable, and available throughout Howard County.”
Sugary drinks are the single-biggest source of empty calories in Americans’ diets and numerous studies have linked unhealthy sugary drinks to alarming increases in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. These conditions often lead to suffering and premature death.
Today, one in three Maryland children is overweight or obese. Nationally, nearly a quarter of all teens have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, a diagnosis once exclusive to adults.
African American and Latino students are twice as likely to be overweight than their white counterparts, and half of all African American and Latino children are expected to be diagnosed with diabetes some time in their lives. In addition to shortening lifespans, diabetes often inflicts undue pain and suffering on those afflicted with it and their families.
“The twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes are taking a significant toll on our health care system, economy, and most significantly, our families” said Highsmith Vernick. “Howard County residents are increasingly choosing healthy over unhealthy, and with growing support among our local organizations and leaders, we are working together to ensure that this generation of children and those that follow can enjoy long, healthy lives.”
Howard County Unsweetened is a community-wide campaign that launched in December 2012 to make healthy beverage options easy to find and choose for everyone, especially children. A prominent feature of the effort is the Better Beverage Finder, which provides a searchable database of hundreds of healthy drink options and locations where they can be found. The campaign’s message has been taken to county schools, parks, libraries, and many other places throughout Howard County.