SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES

What is a sugar-sweetened beverage?

"Any beverage with added sugar or other caloric sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, including soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks, teas, flavored/enhanced waters, and energy drinks” (Friedman & Brownell, 2012).

What others have to say about them...

Many recent popular media and public health reports discuss how drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) causes health problems, and suggest SSBs be taxed to help offset the public health costs of treating these diseases (Alliance for a Healthier RI, 2012; Caruso & Peltz, 2012; Friedman & Brownell, 2012; Trotta, 2010). Opponents to taxing SSBs point out that soda consumption and Type II Diabetes, for example, are related but not necessarily causal (correlation is not causation), unlike the taxed substance tobacco, which has been proven to directly cause fatal illness. Folks are also questioning whether being overweight should be considered a health "problem," never mind an "epidemic" (Campos et al., 2006). Focusing on weight as a measure of health may be the wrong approach, because weight-focused conversations tend to make negative and hurtful assumptions about heavier bodies, which in turn contribute to poor self-esteem and additional health problems caused by stress or depression (Bacon & Aphramor, 2011). Additionally, scientists are starting to show how diet soda or artificially sweetened beverages are also bad for our health, but these drinks aren’t included in SSB regulations (Alphonse, 2013; Fagherazzi et al., 2013). In our research, we sought to broaden this SSB conversation by looking also at corporate ownership (inspired by Prof. Phil Howard's work), the general availability of SSBs in Providence, and by asking the average Providence resident her thoughts and opinions on soda consumption, public health and policy.

Our Approach

Our research on soda consumption in Providence has been underway for three years. In its first iteration, students examined the prevalence and variety of SSBs available within a quarter-mile of Providence public elementary schools. We counted the types and quantities of SSBs that young children could access walking to and from school. In our second year, we looked at the prevalence of SSB advertising within this same quarter-mile radius. In our third year, students surveyed Providence residents on soda and the proposed soda tax for RI. We then conducted follow-up, in-depth interviews with volunteers who took our survey. Through these surveys and interviews, we hope to gain a greater understanding of public opinion on soda policies.

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