Reducing Sugary Drinks Among Latino Families

WASHINGTON, DC (June 11, 2018) – A 12-week intervention helped Latino families replace calorie-laden, sugar-sweetened beverages with a healthier alternative – water, according to a study presented at Nutrition 2018 by a research team at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. The early research may one day lead to a proven strategy that will help Latinos reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain, obesity and related diseases.

Mairyn López Ríos, a student in the Masters of Public Health program at Milken Institute SPH and the lead research assistant on the project, presented the study’s preliminary findings this week at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting held June 9-12 in Boston.

The pilot study is part of a project called Water Up! led by Uriyoán Colón-Ramos, ScD, MPA, an Associate Professor of Nutrition and Global Health at Milken Institute SPH and funded by The Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The study aims to address sugary beverage consumption among ethnic groups that are vulnerable to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that families living in a predominantly low-income community near Washington D.C. had easy access to sugary drinks but did not have as much access to healthier drink options, like safe, palatable drinking water. Previous research by the team showed that Latinos in this community rarely drank water from the tap because they disliked the taste and feared it was not clean.

The researchers wanted to find out if increased access to clean, palatable drinking water and education about health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, would reduce sugary drink consumption in this community.

The researchers partnered with CentroNia, an educational organization that provides affordable, quality early childhood education to over 2,400 low-income children and families, to invite 50 Latino families to participate in the study.

To encourage the replacement of sugary drinks with water, families received a water pitcher with a lead-removing filter and a reusable water bottle. They received information about their neighborhood’s water quality and participated in activities encouraging water intake instead of sugary drinks.

Colón-Ramos and her team surveyed the participating families at the start and end of the 12-week period to determine any changes in drinking behavior. Children drank an additional 7.2 ounces of water per day, and decreased consumption of sugary drinks and fruit juices by 1.4 ounces and 2.8 ounces per day, respectively. Parents decreased consumption of sugary drinks and fruit juices by 9.3 ounces per day.

Decreasing sugary beverage consumption can help prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other health problems. “The findings of this pilot study suggest that increasing access to safe, tasty drinking water can encourage some communities to reduce their sugary drink intake, and replace it with affordable, clean tap water,” Colón-Ramos said. “In the future, we hope to find other acceptable, healthy substitutes for sugary drinks. Such alternatives might make it easier for some people to reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”