Seminar recap: Americans’ sweet tooth needs to be pulled

[ Posted on June 5th, 2017 by Center Communications | No Comments » ]
William McCarthy, Susan Babey, and an ad that overwhelms a drinking fountain at SEA-TAC Airport (photo by Leslie Mikkelson of Prevention Institute)

William McCarthy, Susan Babey presenting at the seminar on excess sugar consumption, and an ad at SEA-TAC Airport that illustrates their topic.
“Even the best water station has trouble competing with commercially marketed sugar,” said Babey. “Can you even see the water fountain?”
(Photo by Leslie Mikkelson of Prevention Institute)

Americans — especially adolescents and teens — consume far above the amount of calories in excess sugar than the recommended maximum and may be making themselves sick in the process, according to research presented at the Center’s Health Policy Seminar Series on May 31.

“There is an increasing amount of evidence linking consumption of excess sugar with poor health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” said Susan Babey, co-director of the Center’s Chronic Disease Program.

According to research Babey shared, nearly half of daily added sugar intake comes from sugar-sweetened beverages — sodas, fruit drinks, sports drinks – while snacks and sweets accounted for 31 percent. Latinos are among the biggest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages in California, Babey said.

The seminar was based on findings from a roundtable on how to cut excess sugar from diets led by Babey and William McCarthy, adjunct professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, who also presented at the seminar. Expert participants at the roundtable reported numerous factors — aggressive food industry marketing, poor nutritional education, limited food and drink choices in some communities, and sparse policy – contribute to overconsumption of added sugar.

School districts and various communities have played a visible role in cutting sugar and promoting nutrition by requiring healthy food and snacks at schools and taxing sugary beverages, said Babey. McCarthy said better communication about the consequences of excess sugar consumption is needed, and that the message needs to be tailored to the audience.

He discussed a poster that one researcher placed in convenience stores, warning consumers of the high calorie counts in sodas. The posters had no effect on teens’ sugary beverage purchases until the researcher added a visual that emphasized that it took 5 miles of walking to burn off the calories in 20-oz. sugary drink.

“Then she got their attention, because miles of walking is a metric that they could readily understand — the calories they don’t,” said McCarthy. He said the posters led to an “appreciable and sustained decrease” of sugary drinks by young people.

During the Q&A session, McCarthy said one way to eat right and sidestep added sugar is to avoid processed foods and stick to foods in their natural form. A glass of apple juice might seem to be an apple’s nutritional equivalent, but it lacks critical elements for body health, like fiber, McCarthy said.

When in doubt what’s healthiest to eat, he said “Go for Mother Nature!”

Watch the seminar video here. (Note: Video is not compatible with google chrome)

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