Sugary beverages: breaking the cycle of overconsumption
As a pediatrician in the Bronx, New York, these stories have become all too familiar. The Bronx leads New York City in consumption of sugary drinks, with nearly a third (31.5%) of our adult residents drinking at least 1 sugary beverage daily, compared to 22.7% citywide. My young patients suffer from preventable diseases such as tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and even fatty liver disease. And the evidence is clear that sugary beverages are a large contributing factor to these chronic diseases.
For the past decade, the Bronx has placed dead last out of New York State’s 62 counties for health outcomes in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings Report. In 2015, community members came together to form a neighborhood health strategy called “#Not62—The Campaign for A Healthy Bronx.” Out of this came The Healthy Beverage Zone project, which was launched in 2017 by Union Community Health Center in partnership with Bronx Health REACH, and the Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center.
“The goal of our grassroots, cross-sector collaboration is to make it easier for families in our community to make healthier beverage choices, such as water and seltzer, with health care providers and other professionals serving as role models.”
The goal of our grassroots, cross-sector collaboration is to make it easier for families in our community to make healthier beverage choices, such as water and seltzer, with health care providers and other professionals serving as role models. Healthy Beverage Zones now has 63 official partner organizations, including several community health centers and a local hospital with close to 3,000 employees participating. Staff members are educated on the hazards of sugary drinks, and asked to become “champions” who model healthy drink decisions at work.
Healthy Beverage Zone also has worked with Bronx health institutions, community based organizations and school to eliminate beverages with added sugar from vending machines, the cafeteria and meetings. In addition, the Healthy Beverage Zone also supported local policy to pass a Healthy Happy Meals bill which will make water, low-fat milk, and 100% juice the default option for all “Kids Meals” in New York City.
Community-wide change to help families rethink their drinks
Since the Healthy Beverage Zone launched two years ago, it has received both local and national attention for what is considered an innovative approach to addressing a public health concern. It represents an example of the sort of system-wide change called for in a joint policy statement released last month by the the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association to help reduce consumption in children and adolescents. I am thrilled to take part in a small, collaborative, evidence-based approach that can make big and positive impacts toward the health of our community.
I continue to talk with families about how reducing sugary beverages can have a big impact on a child’s health. Many are still shocked at how much sugar a single can of soda contains. They want to make healthier beverage choices. As health care providers, they deserve our support in and outside the clinic to help make this happen.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Vanessa Salcedo, MD, FAAP, is Director of Health Promotion and a practicing pediatrician at Union Community Health Center with academic appointment at City University of New York School of Medicine/ St Barnabas Hospital Health. Her AAP involvement includes serving as an Executive Committee Member of the Section of Early Career Physician and serves on Council on Community Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media, Section on Obesity, and Section on Minority Health. She was named one of the 2017 National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health. Follow her on Twitter at @DrVSalcedo, @TheBronxHBZ, and @UCHC_Bronx.