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Rising sugary drink consumption attributable to lack of water fountains
Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Waterloo
Considerable exposure to sugary drinks, combined with the lack of water fountains in high schools, are likely important contributors to the increased consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.

These were the findings of a new study by researchers from the University of Waterloo and the Cardiovascular Surgery Unit of Guatemala. It focused on high schools in Guatemala City, and was published in Public Health Nutrition.

They found that that the beverage industry was very visible in schools through industry-sponsored food and drink kiosks, advertisements and donated goods. Moreover, students attending public schools lacked access to free drinking water during school.

“Schools represent an important area of influence for adolescents,” said Katelyn Godin, Ph D candidate, School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, and lead author of the paper.

“With limited access to clean drinking water and the very visible presence of the beverage industry in schools, it’s clear that being in an environment that encourages students to purchase unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverages has an impact on behaviour,” she added.

Guatemalan students consume soft drinks an average of 2.5 days each school week, which is twice the rate of their Canadian peers, who have ready access to water fountains at school.

Latin America is the largest market globally for soda in terms of dollars sales, and the people of that region are among the greatest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages globally. They also face higher rates of obesity, undernutrition and chronic illness than people in wealthier countries.

“The presence of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry in Guatemalan schools suggests that the beverage industry is capitalising on countries that have fewer enforced regulations to protect youth than places like Canada to access a key sub-group of impressionable consumers,” said Godin.

In Canada, provincial policies restrict the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages for sale in schools and limit the presence of marketing from the food and beverage industry.

The researchers also found that unlike public schools, the Guatemalan private schools they studied all had free, clean drinking water available to students through water coolers. Private school students consumed sweetened beverages half as often as their public-school peers.  

“This finding reflects an important social and health inequity, since private school students typically come from wealthier families,” said Godin.

“An initial step to addressing these problems is enforcing policies that limit the power the sugar-sweetened beverage industry has in schools, while providing students with healthy alternatives to sugar-laden, high-calorie drinks,” she added.
 
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