medwireNews: Researchers report the success of a community campaign to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks that led to a decrease in the supermarket sales of such drinks over a 3-year period.
“These findings support the hypothesis that community-based interventions aimed at changing attitudes and access to sugary drinks through policies can meaningfully influence purchasing behaviour at the supermarket,” say Marlene Schwartz (University of Connecticut, Hartford, USA) and colleagues.
The campaign – Howard County Unsweetened – targeted the residents of Howard County in Maryland, USA, through television advertising, digital marketing, direct mail, outdoor advertising, and social media, encouraging them to swap sugary drinks for those lower in sugar and calories, primarily water. This change to drinking behavior was encouraged in schools and childcare, healthcare, and government settings.
The 3-year campaign had a positive effect, as reflected in a significant reduction in the sale of sugary drinks at 15 major supermarkets in the county, compared with that of 17 supermarkets in south-eastern Pennsylvania, with a nearly identical pattern of beverage sales prior to the campaign.
Specifically, the volume of the top 13 brands of regular soda sold in the supermarkets in Howard County fell by 19.7%, from an average 2148 fl oz per store per week in the year prior to the campaign to 1725 fl oz per store per week in year 3. By contrast, sales in the 17 comparison supermarkets remained stable, at 0.8% growth, with the volumes of 2193 and 2211 fl oz per store per week sold, respectively.
The picture was the same for six brands of fruit drinks, with sales dropping by 15.3%, from 1928 to 1696 fl oz per store per week, compared with no change in the comparison stores.
Both the Howard County and comparison stores saw a reduction in the sale of two brands of sports drinks, but the decline was steady and greater in the case of the former, resulting in a final decrease of 25.1% versus 7.9% for the comparison stores where sales rose and fell over the 3-year period.
The team calculated the disparity in the differences in sales between the Howard County and comparison stores and found they were significant for regular soda and fruit drinks, by 369.0 and 343.2 fl oz per store per week, but not for sports drinks sales.
The researchers note in JAMA Internal Medicine that although diet soda was not targeted in the campaign, it was included as a better beverage choice in some of the campaign material. Despite this, however, sales of seven brands of diet soda decreased in Howard County supermarkets, albeit not significantly more so than in comparison stores.
Similarly, sales of 100% juice, again not targeted in the campaign, decreased in Howard County supermarkets, while remaining stable in comparison supermarkets, leading to a significantly greater decline.
“This study highlights the importance of local organizations and government working together to create strong policies to promote consumption of healthy drinks in our communities,” says the team.
Editor Mitchell Katz (Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, California, USA) calls the success of the Howard County Unsweetened campaign “gratifying”, particularly given the association of high sugary beverage consumption with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. He believes “[o]ther communities should implement similar programs.”
By Lucy Piper
medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2017