Sugar-sweetened drinks are on display Tuesday at New Sagaya Market in Anchorage. Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign encourages parents to serve their children water and milk instead of beverages with added sugar. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
A public health campaign in Alaska has shown success at convincing parents to serve their children less sugary drinks, a newly published study says.
Mothers who have seen public-information spots created by Alaska Department of Health’s Play Every Day program reported that they have been inspired by it to change the beverages they serve their young children, the study said.
The results were from surveys of 476 mothers of 3-year-olds. Of those who saw the Play Every Day public-awareness messages, about one in five reported changing their children’s beverage offerings because of those messages. Among the mothers who reported seeing the campaign, 39% said they learned new information from it.
The survey responses were provided by mothers through a previously existing program, the Alaska Childhood Understanding Behaviors Survey.
“We’re very excited about the findings that were shown this week in the Health Promotion Practice journal,” said Ann Potempa, the department’s Play Every Day coordinator and lead author of the study.
The 10-year-old Play Every Day program has two main focuses – encouraging physical activity and encouraging healthy beverage choices that avoid added sugar. The program’s main partners are the nonprofit Healthy Futures and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
The emphasis on avoiding sugary drinks follows national nutritional guidelines and advisories about the dangers of added sugar, Potempa said. Sugary drinks, it turns out, are the biggest source of added sugar for most people’s diets, she said. Health experts advise much-reduced consumption and say that very young children, up to 2 years old, should drink none of those sugar-added beverages.
But sugary beverages are plentiful and heavily marketed, presenting challenges to those who want to limit children’s consumption of them. A particular challenge that Alaska health officials have detected, Potempa said, is the “tricky labeling” on those products.
They might be labeled as “organic” or “all-natural” or being packed with Vitamin C, and they might bear images of fruit, she said. “Drinks can say all of those things and still be loaded with added sugar,” she said.
Nearly a third of Alaska 3-year-olds consumed a sugary beverage daily as of four years ago, according to a 2020 state report on obesity. Consumption has been particularly high in rural areas, with 70% to 74% of 3-year-olds drinking such beverages daily, the report said.
However, the Play Every Day program appears to be helping encourage at least a gradual switch to water and milk from sugary drinks. The campaign helped convince urban Alaska parents to improve their children’s beverage offerings, according to a 2018 department report that showed some changes between 2014 and 2015.
Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign has been successful enough that health agencies in other states and countries have used it as a model, Potempa said. For example, California’s state health department is using the Alaska experience to help it promote child dental health, she said. And health departments in Jamaica and Barbados have made their own messages about avoiding sugary drinks that are similar to the Alaska messages, she said.
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