Sug­ary drinks foes claim suc­cess

Three-year study finds sales fell nearly 20 per­cent at 15 Howard County stores

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com

Ad­vo­cates for health dumped 9.6 tons of white sand out­side an El­li­cott City mid­dle school four years ago to launch Howard County Unsweet­ened, a cam­paign to ease sug­ary so­das and fruit drinks out of lo­cal di­ets.

On Sun­day, they an­nounced the re­sults of their cam­paign: Sales of soda at 15 gro­cery stores in Howard County dropped nearly 20 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Mar­lene Schwartz, di­rec­tor of the Rudd Cen­ter for Obe­sity & Food Pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut. That ex­ceeded the an­nual de­crease of be­tween 1 per­cent and 2 per­cent re­ported na­tion­ally.

Re­searchers pre­sented the re­sults in a study to the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion.

“We’re mak­ing a huge amount of progress,” said Nikki High­smith Ver­nick, pres­i­dent of the Hori­zon Foun­da­tion, the lo­cal health ad­vo­cacy non­profit be­hind the cam­paign. “The study shows ed­u­ca­tion and the me­dia cam­paign and pub­lic pol­icy changes can lead to great gains in pub­lic health.”

The sand dumped out­side Burleigh Manor Mid­dle School in De­cem­ber 2012 rep­re­sented the amount of su­gar the stu­dents would con­sume in one year if they each drank a can of soda ev­ery day. A nondiet soda has more than 8 tea­spoons of added su­gar, greater than the 6-tea­spoon limit rec­om­mended for chil­dren and women by the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion. Men are ad­vised to con­sume no more than 9 tea­spoons.

The sug­ary drinks con­trib­ute to obe­sity, di­a­betes and heart dis­ease — lead­ing causes of death in Howard County, High­smith Ver­nick said.

The county has been at the van­guard of a na­tional move­ment to limit the con­sump­tion of so­das and sug­ary fruit drinks.

Vot­ers in San Fran­cisco, Oak­land and Al­bany, Calif., and Cook County, Ill., ap­proved new taxes of a penny per ounce on such drinks last week. Boul­der, Colo., passed a two-cent tax.

In Howard County, leg­is­la­tion to re­strict the sug­ary drinks stirred de­bate in 2012. Then-County Ex­ec­u­tive Ken Ul­man is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der to re­strict the sale of sug­ary drinks and high-calo­rie snacks on county prop­erty and dur­ing county events.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan H. Kit­tle­man re­scinded the ban when he took of­fice in De­cem­ber 2014. He said the ban over­stepped the role of govern­ment. His ac­tion drew praise from lo­cal ven­dors and crit­i­cism from pub­lic health ad­vo­cates, in­clud­ing the Hori­zon Foun­da­tion.

Kit­tle­man said the study proves con­sumers can make healthy de­ci­sions with­out govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence.

“Clearly the pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions are us­ing their abil­ity to sway peo­ple,” he said. “It’s not the govern­ment telling them what they can and can’t drink.”

But High­smith Ver­nick said the county govern­ment should be in­volved.

“The govern­ment has a role to cre­ate a healthy environment for its cit­i­zens to thrive,” she said.

The study of Howard County, pre­sented Sun­day at an Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence in New Or­leans, found sales of sug­ary fruit-fla­vored bev­er­ages and 100 per­cent fruit juice de­creased by 15 per­cent. Over the years, the serv­ing sizes have grown be­yond, say, a small, health­ful glass of orange juice at break­fast.

The study tracked sales at 15 stores from 2012 to 2015.

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