Experts may have the evidence needed to support mass media campaigns about sugary drinks, thanks to a recent study that linked an extensive public health campaign to decreased sugary beverage sales in Howard County, Maryland.
Published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, this study tested the effects of an educational campaign on sales of sugary beverages. The goal was to see if campaigns have a measurable impact on sugary beverage consumption, which remains a major contributor to obesity in the United States.
Current dietary guidelines recommend that calories from added sugars, like those in sugar-sweetened beverages, make up less than 10% of our total caloric intake. Many Americans exceed these recommendations and a wealth of studies have linked sugary beverage consumption to increased risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
As part of the study, researchers tracked beverage sales at 32 supermarkets over a four year period. Fifteen of the supermarkets were located in Howard County, Maryland, where a 3-year public health campaign was implemented to reduce consumption of all sugary drinks. The remaining 17 supermarkets were located in other areas, where there were no targeted campaigns.
The Maryland campaign featured a combination of TV ads, digital marketing, direct mail, outdoor advertising, social media and news coverage from 2013–2015 and gained an estimated 17 million views.
During the study period, researchers found that soda sales in Howard County decreased by 20% between 2012 and 2015, while sales remained stable in the comparison supermarkets. Fruit drink and 100% fruit juice sales also decreased by 15%, with little change in comparison stores. Authors also note that sales of sports drinks and diet soda decreased in Howard County, although the change was not significant compared to other sites.
According to authors, results of this campaign provide a road map for other communities to reduce consumption of sugary drinks. This is one of the first studies to demonstrate a measurable impact of educational campaigns on sugary drink consumption. Experts hope that findings will stimulate similar programs across the country.
However, it’s important to note that the study did not test whether a decrease in sugary drink sales also led to a decrease in consumption. Experts hope that with future studies, we can continue to identify the best-possible strategies for reducing sugary beverage consumption and promote better health.