It’s well known that sugar sweetened beverages are not part of a healthy diet yet high school students are drinking them regularly and often excessively.
Interventions to raise awareness among young people and motivate them to avoid these drinks is vital.
Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, which include soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks, is associated with weight gain and obesity, risk factors for serious health issues including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Bridget Foley, a researcher from the School of Public Health, University of Sydney, says: “Interventions to raise awareness among young people and motivate them to avoid these drinks is vital.”
As part of the SALSA (Students As LifeStyle Activists) program run by the Western Sydney Local Health District and the University’s Primary Health Care Education and Research Unit (PERU), data was recently collected from Year 8 students at 23 high schools in western Sydney about their health behaviours. SALSA is “a unique peer education program which motivates high school students to make healthier lifestyle choices,” said Dr Kean-Sing Lim, Mt Druitt GP and founding member of the program.
The results showed that 50% of surveyed Year 8 students were drinking one sugar sweetened drink every day. The pattern was similar in the number of students drinking fruit juice every day. Both of these drinks are associated with high sugar content providing ‘empty calories’, often stored as fat.
I don’t have time for breakfast, but I get my energy from a can on the way to school.
PERU’s data also shows that only 65% of students were drinking more than three cups of water each day. The government recommends that young people drink six to eight cups per day.
Principal of Rooty Hill High School, Christine Cawsey, says: “Initiatives that change the attitudes, eating behaviours and exercise habits of secondary students are rare, but SALSA actually works.”
Participation in the SALSA program led to a 6% reduction in high school students’ sugar sweetened drink consumption.