Jamie Benedict, associate professor in the University of Nevada, Reno, has been working to reduce the sugar intake of young school-aged children through an educational campaign called ReThink Your Drink.
The campaign encourages parents to replace sodas, sports drinks and other high sugar drinks with healthier options for their children such as low-fat milk, 100 percent fruit juice and water. The project is funded by USDA's SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the county-wide campaign will kick-off this spring spanning two-three months.
Benedict, a faculty member in the department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Sciences, started the project three years ago when she noted that most children drink too many sugary drinks. According to Benedict, when sugary drinks are consumed in excess there is an increase in a child's risk of obesity due to the extra calories and may cause them to miss out on important nutrients found in healthful beverages.
"This is a stage in a child's life when parents have more control over what their children are consuming," Benedict said. "This creates an opportunity for parents to have a positive influence that can provide health benefits for their children long into the future."
To more effectively educate families, Benedict conducted preliminary research including focus groups and interviews to learn more about consumer's attitudes and buying habits. The participants included families in Washoe County's SNAP Program that have children between the ages of 6 and 12. Benedict found that a direct-mail campaign was the best way to reach a large number of families.
"Families are busy," Benedict said. "Many are single parents and the opportunity to meet with them one-on-one is not as likely."
The Glenn Group, a local public relations and advertising agency, worked with Benedict pro bono to design four brochures showing the amount of sugar in soda, sports drinks and fruit-flavored drinks, and to stress the importance of milk and water. On the back of each brochure is a quote from a parent about how they were able to make changes to incorporate healthier drinks for their family.
"Parents are more likely to make a healthy change if they know other people who are similar to them were able to make changes, too," Benedict said.
A small-scale preliminary study using the campaign materials was recently completed. The brochures were mailed out individually every 10 days until all four of the brochures had been distributed to 1,000 households enrolled in SNAP. Shortly after, the families were mailed a survey which allowed Benedict a chance to learn more about the families' drink choices and to measure the effectiveness of the brochures. Their survey results were compared to a second group of households who had not received the brochures.
"We got a positive response from most of the families who were sent the materials," Benedict said.
Benedict also provided brochures to a select group of doctors and dentists in the area for them to distribute to parents. She recently surveyed this group to determine how the brochures were used and what the health professionals' thought about their effectiveness.
"We need to reinforce the message about sugary drinks in multiple platforms," Benedict said.
Campaign activities planned for this spring include mailing the brochures to about 4,000 households and making the brochures available to health professionals, as well as using marketing strategies such as print advertisements in the Washoe County School District's newsletter, radio ads and billboards.