When given the choice, teens don’t want to walk 5 miles for a sugary soda

Nov. 4, 2014—If you saw a sign that said you’d have to walk 5 miles to burn off the calories in a single regular soda, would you:

A. Lace up your walking shoes?

B. Swap the sugary drink for a low-or no-calorie alternative?

If you were a teenager, such a sign might motivate you to choose option B, according to a study from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the American Journal of Public Health.

About the study

Between August 2012 and June 2013, researchers posted signs in 6 corner stores in predominantly black neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland. The study focused on black teens and reported that they’re among the heaviest consumers of sugary beverages and have a higher risk of obesity.

Each brightly colored, 8.5-by-11-inch sign presented, in question form, 1 of 4 facts about 20-ounce sugar-sweetened beverages:

  • Did you know that a bottle of soda or fruit juice has about 250 calories?
  • Did you know that a bottle of soda or fruit juice has about 16 teaspoons of sugar?
  • Did you know that working off the calories in a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?
  • Did you know that working off the calories in a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 5 miles of walking?

During the study period, adolescents between 12 and 18 purchased 3,098 drinks in the stores with the signs. When researchers asked a quarter of those young people about the signs, 35 percent said they saw the signs. Of those who saw the signs:

  • 59 percent said they believed the signs.
  • 40 percent said they changed their behavior because of the signs, either buying a drink with fewer or no calories, a smaller-sized drink, or no drink at all.

Even after the signs were gone, teens kept making healthier choices than before the signs were posted.

The take-home message
Though the study focused on black teens, the findings may help a larger demographic: Simple strategies such as posting the calories-in, calories-out equation can help motivate kids to choose healthier food and drinks.

From sodas and fruit smoothies to lattes and sports drinks, sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing to adolescent obesity.

Until stores join the campaign to address childhood obesity by posting informational signs like those used in the study, it’s up to parents to take action. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping sugar-sweetened drinks out of the home and stocking the refrigerator with cold water to encourage healthy beverage choices.

 

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