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Setting aside sugary drinks, at least on Sundays

Chris Shook, a driver with Harbor Pacific Bottling Inc., stocks a cooler with soda, in Elma, Washington last fall.
Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Chris Shook, a driver with Harbor Pacific Bottling Inc., stocks a cooler with soda, in Elma, Washington last fall.

The effort to reduce obesity is taking aim once again at sugary drinks.  A coalition of health groups is asking the public to try-out “Soda-FreeSundays.”

There’s pretty solid evidence Americans, on average, are drinking a lot more soft drinks and other sweetened beverages than they did a generation ago.  Back in the 1990’s, for example, soft drink sales surpassed milk.

Although those numbers have begun to level off in recent years, public health leaders say sweetened drinks are still an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to answering why Americans have been getting fatter for the past 30 years. Jennifer Trott of the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition says habits have changed.

"It's becoming less of a treat and more of a daily occurrence," she says. So, starting with not drinking sugary beverages or sodas one day a week is a first step, she says, and then maybe make it two days a week, and build up from there.

The beverage industry says it gets blamed unfairly for the obesity epidemic.  It has fought any taxes or regulations, including leading the effort to repeal a Washington state soda tax in last fall's election (and spending a record amount in the process). 

So, health groups are trying this voluntary education campaign. It includes a website, where you can sign a pledge to go without sugary drinks on Sundays.

Other efforts may be paying off.  According to the Washington Department of Health's latest "Healthy Youth Survey," half as many kids in eighth, 10th and 12th-grades report they drink two or more sodas daily compared with 2002. And the overall percentage of teenagers who drink any sugar-sweetened beverages at school has declined steadily since 2006.

The Department of Health attributes the decline to changing policies in school districts throughout the state. From the official news release:

An example is the work of the Highline School District in South King County. The district used input from parents, students, employees, and community members to change policy and to set up guidelines for physical activity, nutrition, and health education in all of its schools. The input covered foods and drinks offered in the schools. Soda pop, energy drinks, and high-sugar drinks are out, while water, 100 percent juices, and non-fat milk are in. Candy, cookies and cakes are gone, but kids can buy fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low-fat cheese.

During the past decade, obesity rates for high-schoolers have held steady (no longer increasing), but the percentage of students who are somewhat overweight has continued to climb, according to the survey results.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.