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Reduction of sugary drink consumption urged as a key strategy for preventing obesity

Close to a third of high school students, or 26,000 youth, drink soda daily in King County, and 8,000 students drink two or more sodas per day, according to a new "Youth consumption of sugary drinks in King County" report.

"One in five youth in King County is overweight or obese. Reducing the amount of sugary drinks our children consume is a key strategy for improving health," said Dr. David Fleming, Director & Health Office for Public Health - Seattle & King County.

Sugary drinks are the largest single source of calories in the U.S. diet and account for almost half of all added sugars that Americans consume. A person who drinks two 20-ounce regular colas per day consumes 4.7 cups of sugar per week -- or 243 cups of sugar per year -- from soda alone. The consumption of sugary drinks has been linked to risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.

According to the new "Youth consumption of sugary drinks in King County" Data Watch Report:

  • Two out of three King County middle and high school students report drinking sugary drinks, including sodas, sports drinks or other flavored sweetened drinks, at school.
  • Of those youth who drink sugary drinks at school, 43% bring them from home, 9% get them from friends, 29% buy them at school, and 20% obtain them in other ways.
  • Among high school students, daily consumption of at least one soda is highest among American Indian/Alaskan Native youth (40%), Hispanic/Latino youth (39%), Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander youth (38%) and African American youth (37%) versus 30% for white, non-Hispanic youth.

Sugary drinks are beverages with added sugars, such as regular sodas (or "pop"), energy drinks, sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas. On average, a 20-ounce bottle of regular soda has more than 16 teaspoons of sugar and 240 calories. This is double the total amount of added sugar allowed for an entire day based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

During the last two years as part of Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a one-time federal stimulus-fund initiative, King County organizations have been taking steps to decrease access to sugary drinks and offer healthier options, such as water or low-fat milk.

As part of CPPW, the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition launched Soda Free Sundays, a community level campaign to take a break from sodas one day a week. Over 1,000 individuals and 55 organizations took the pledge to go soda free on Sundays.

"This report demonstrates that sugary drink overconsumption continues to be a real problem in King County," said Victor Colman, Director of the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition. "We know that with action at the individual, organizational, and community-wide levels we can see real progress and make healthier beverage choices within reach for everyone."

There are steps families and organizations can take to cut down on sugary drinks:

  • Purchase, serve and enjoy low-sugar options like water, low-fat milk, unsweetened tea and coffee drinks, and small portions (4 ounces or less) of 100% fruit juice.
  • If you do have a sugary drink as an occasional treat, cut calories and save money by ordering a small size and saying "no thanks!" to refills.
  • Ensure easy access to cool, fresh water at work, in organizations that serve kids and in public spaces.
  • Use the King County Board of Health's Healthy Vending Guidelines to make sure that your vending machines offer the healthiest beverage options.
  • Limit the availability of sugary drinks at your workplace or organization by using the King County Vending Guidelines to identify the types of healthy drinks to make available.

To learn more about sugary drinks and what you can do, visit:

  • Public Health's sugary drinks webpage, includes new "10 things parents should know about sugary drinks" and "10 things families and organizations can do to cut down on sugary drinks" fact sheets
  • Soda Free Sundays, a community-wide challenge to take a break from soda and other sugary drinks for just one day out of the week.
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