More San Joaquin County teenagers are drinking at least one sugary beverage daily, a habit that could contribute to obesity or diabetes.
The study released today by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy is based on interviews with 40,000 households. Results compare consumption trends over an eight-year period from 2005 to 2012 broken down by county, age group and ethnicity.
Researchers found that 80 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds living in San Joaquin County — among the highest in California — have at least one sugary drink such as soda or an energy drink a day, up 14 percent since six years ago when a similar study was completed. That’s compared to 65 percent of teens statewide.
In Sacramento County, consumption also increased, but only by 7 percent. And today only 36 percent consume a sugary drink daily.
There was some encouraging news: The study found that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption statewide and in Sacramento County each decreased by 30 percent among 2- to 5-year-olds and 26 percent among 6- to 11-year-olds.
In San Joaquin County, it decreased by an average of 8 percent among those ages.
“California has made real progress in reducing the consumption of sugary beverages among young children,” Dr. Susan Babey, the report’s lead author, said in a news release.
“But teens are in trouble. Soda or sports drinks should be an occasional treat, not a daily habit. If this trend isn’t reversed, there may be costly consequences for teens, their families and the health care system in the form of increased obesity and diabetes.”
Although the study does not directly examine the causes for the sugary spike among teens, Dr. Harold Goldstein, CCPHA’s executive director, suggests one clear reason:
“As parents learn more about the harm from consuming sugary drinks, they are limiting how much their children drink. Teens, however, are more independent, making them an ideal target for beverage companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing sugary drinks to them, including deceptively healthy-sounding beverages like sports drinks and vitamin water,” he said.
“We may not be able to protect teens everywhere, but we should at least close the loophole in state law that allows beverages companies to sell sugary sports drinks on middle and high school campuses.”
As of last year, such beverages were still being sold separately at lunchtime in Lodi Unified, although not offered with a meal where only 1 percent fat white milk and non-fat chocolate milk are available. High school students in both Lodi and Galt also have access to vending machines where both sports drinks such as Powerade and bottled water are sold.
The state already prohibits the sale of sports drinks in elementary schools, and soda has been banned from all school vending machines since 2007. An assembly bill that would have amended those laws to include limiting sports drink sales to 30 minutes before and after the school day was not signed by the governor.
It is clear that adolescents are the biggest consumer of sugary drinks in California, but they’re not only drinking the carbonated variety.
Since 2009, sports or energy drink consumption specifically has increased among adolescents, from 31 percent to 38 percent. Soda consumption has actually decreased, from 43 percent to 41 percent, but is still high.
An average energy drink can have as much as 67 grams of sugar per 20-ounce can, compared to about 60 grams in the same size soda. Prepackaged fruit juice boxes, while much smaller, contain about 20 grams of sugar.
So, what can be done?
With other reports showing nearly 40 percent of California children overweight or obese, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy feels it is vital that parents, educators, health professionals, businesses and policymakers work together to identify and put into place public policies and other programs and strategies to reduce sugary drink consumption.
At Tuesday’s Galt City Council meeting, Councilwoman Barbara Payne called on the city of Galt to take a hard look at childhood obesity and diabetes, and reach out to residents to educate them on nutrition and exercise. She recently attended a nationwide conference on the topic.
“Sodas are one of the main contributors to this issue,” Payne said, adding that she plans to make a report to both Galt district superintendents. “As a city, the least we can do is try to educate young people to avoid becoming a statistic when it comes to diabetes.
“It can be preventable, if only they know.”
Some cities have encouraged alternative drink choices at public events, while others have collaborated with businesses to create a campaign against diabetes, something Payne would like to do.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.