Sugar Free - Campaign urges people to choose water over soda

Matthew Lane • Updated Sep 24, 2015 at 7:26 AM

KINGSPORT - Choosing to drink a glass of water instead of a bottle of soda, if only once a day, may seem like a simple choice for many. But this simple step is what local health and wellness officials are encouraging people to take in the battle against the rising rate of obesity and diabetes in the United States.

The Live Sugar Freed campaign kicked off with this message Tuesday morning at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education.

The campaign is a pilot project of “A Healthy America” – a national movement using prevention and the power of the media to solve our nation's greater health problems. “A Healthy America” is led by The Public Good Projects - a new non-profit organization of media, marketing and public health experts.

At the core of the Live Sugar Freed campaign is raising people's awareness of the epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes and encouraging people to drink water or other healthier beverages instead of sugary sodas, sweet tea, fruit-flavored drink and “energy” or “sports” drinks.

Roger Mowen, a community volunteer and chairman of the Healthy Kingsport organization, said he sees every day the impact bad choices have on people.

“I want people to think about the choices they make every day,” Mowen said. “Start on a personal level with one glass of water instead of one drink, and encourage others to make changes.”

According to the campaign, sugary drinks increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. One 20-ounce bottle of soda contains the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar. Since the average young adult drinks one to two sugary drinks a day, that adds up to 68 pounds of sugar a year.

In 1996, 17 percent of adults in Tennessee were obese. As of 2013, the percentage has grown to 34 percent with one in eight adults reporting they had physician-diagnosed diabetes. In a survey conducted by the campaign in the Tri-Cities region, adults age 18 to 45 reported drinking an average of 1.7 sugary drinks per day, while one in seven drank four or more per day.

Drinking one or more 12 ounce sugary drink per day increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 26 percent.

“Diabetes isn't curable, but much of it is preventable if we can reduce obesity rates,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, the Dean of the College of Public Health at East Tennessee State University. “We can reverse the obesity epidemic by educating the public, by encouraging healthy behaviors and by working with communities, health systems, elected officials, educators and others to implement effective programs.”

The Live Sugar Freed campaign plans to promote its message on television, in newspapers and on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Messages will be aired for three months (longer if funding becomes available) and the effectiveness of the campaign will be evaluated with follow-up surveys of adults in the region.

“Obesity and diabetes represent a public health crisis,” said Tony Keck, senior vice-president and chief development officer at Mountain States Health Alliance. “We're not going to solve that problem with medical care alone. It's time to use all of the tools we have, including the power of the mass media, to address the unhealthy behaviors that are contributing to the problem.”

It's website www.livesugarfreed.org includes information about obesity and diabetes and impact sugary drinks have on your health and well-being. The site also includes a 30-second video comparing sugary drinks to cigarettes.

Live Sugar Freed is more than just an advertising blitz and mass media campaign. Officials are also urging local companies, governments and organizations to adopt policies that promote water consumption and discourage the drinking of sugary beverages.

“Our economic survival as a region depends on our health,” Mowen said. “When workers, their children and their family members are healthier, it makes for a more productive and prosperous community.”