The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) released a report last month showing that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) — drinks with added sugar such as soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks — remains an ongoing concern to the health of children and adolescents in Los Angeles County.
The report shows stark disparities in SSB consumption among racial, ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic groups. The release of the report follows a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion calling attention to the importance of the report and its recommendations for environmental and policy changes. The Board has directed Public Health to disseminate it widely.
Supervisor Hilda L. Solis introduced a board motion directing Public Health to disseminate its report to community-based organizations, policymakers, and schools to help raise awareness to help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in our most vulnerable communities in the future.
Excess consumption of added sugars contributes to the high prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity, and increases the risk for dental decay, heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. SSBs are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet.
“This report shows that sugary drinks are a real problem impacting the health and well-being of our kids,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “The issue I see is that sugary options are often the cheaper options, and healthier alternatives are not always affordable. We have a lot of work to do to shift this reality and tackle the persistent health disparities our kids are experiencing.”
Drawing on data from the latest Los Angeles County Health Survey (LACHS), highlights of the report include:
• SSB consumption was higher among Black (47.6%) and Latino (43.1%) children, compared to Asian (25.4%) and White (21.0%) children.
• Findings showed large regional differences in child SSB consumption across Los Angeles County, with SSB consumption lowest in the West Service Planning Area (SPA) (16.7% in 2018), which includes communities like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Malibu, and highest in the South SPA (51.6%), which includes the communities of Compton, Crenshaw, Watts and surrounding areas.
• While overall rates of daily SSB consumption have decreased (from 43.3% to 37.2%) over the past decade, Black and Latino children continue to have approximately double the rate of SSB consumption compared to White and Asian children.
• Among low-income households living below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), 47% of children consumed one or more SSB per day, compared to 22% of children living in households at or above 300% FPL.
• SSB consumption was lower among children who participated in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) (32.1%) compared to children in low income households who did not participate in the program (40.7%). This notable difference seems to provide a protective factor that may be due to nutrition counseling to reduce consumption of SSBs and the provision of WIC benefits that include only beverages that do not contain added sugar.
“While the overall rates of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption are declining, we continue to see troubling disparities in the populations that are most affected,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, director of Public Health. “We know consumption of sugary drinks among our Black and Latino youth is double that of their White and Asian counterparts. And while it is always easy to blame the problem on individual choices, we are aware that the environment in which children live, study, and play has a tremendous impact on the choices they can make.
Systemic inequities, such as targeted marketing, proliferation of inexpensive sugary beverages, and lack of infrastructure improvements that provide easy access to clean, safe water in communities of color, heavily influence individual behavior. It will take an even larger commitment by all of us to implement proven, multi-sector strategies to reduce inequities and improve the health and future of our children.”
Recommended strategies from the report for reducing disparities in SSB consumption among children in Los Angeles County include:
• Limit SSB marketing in public buildings and spaces
• Make drinking water safe, accessible, and free throughout communities and schools
• Allocate SSB tax revenues to programs directed at communities disproportionately impacted by SSB marketing and consumption
• Implement behavioral economics strategies to promote healthier beverage options in schools and restaurants