School environment increases sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Guatemalan adolescents

New research from Joaquin Barnoya, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues has found that school attending adolescents in Guatemala report high sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

Few studies have evaluated sugar-sweetened beverages consumption, such as soda or sweetened coffee drinks, in Guatemalan youth and its association with the school environment. The results should have public health officials on alert, as consuming too many sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to obesity and long term chronic health conditions, such as diabetes.

Dr. Barnoya’s research, published in Public Health Nutrition, surveyed over 1,000 public and private students on health behavior choices. This data was compared to student access to healthy drink alternatives, like water fountains in school, and industry sponsored advertisements placed within school property.

The outcomes from the study yields that Guatemalan adolescents do consume a high amount of sugar-sweetened beverages in a day. On average, 28% of students consume 2.58 sodas per day and 31% consume 2.40 sweetened coffee or teas per day. Public school students do not have access to water fountains, so they consume soda 28% more often than their private school counterparts. Lastly, beverage industry advertisements were found in both private and public schools. These displays may also account for the high rates of youth drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Sugar-sweetened beverage are one of the main drivers of the obesity epidemic in Guatemala and Latin America,” says Dr. Barnoya.  “Unfortunately, as our findings show, the school environment does not offer any healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, the beverage industry uses schools to advertise high calorie, nutrient poor beverages to adolescents.”

A public school kiosk is sponsored by Coca-Cola, a beverage industry targeting Guatemalan youth.

With these results, Dr. Barnoya and colleagues urge public health officials to develop and implement a school-based intervention aimed at reducing sugar-sweetened beverages advertising and consequently beverage consumption among Guatemalan youth. Providing free healthy drinking alternatives, limiting the amount of industry sponsored advertisements in schools, and decreasing the access to sugar-sweetened beverages while in school could have a profound impact on reducing the amount of soda and sweetened coffee and tea that adolescents are drinking. Reducing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages has great health benefits and will help these adolescents lead healthier lives, reducing their risk of chronic illnesses in the immediate and long-term future.