Minneapolis’ new campaign to steer kids and adults away from sugary drinks has prompted at least a few businesses and organizations to change their menus and push healthier options.
And after receiving an update on the “ReThink Your Drink” program on Monday, some members of the Minneapolis City Council said they want to see more emphasis placed on fighting obesity-causing beverages — and perhaps eventually enact new laws or city policies.
In a presentation at the council’s health committee, organizers of the largely state-funded campaign said they’ve seen changes ranging from organizations developing their own “healthy beverage” plans to a restaurant dropping the amount of sugar it puts in its homemade sodas. The effort has been primarily targeted at minority groups where obesity and sugary drink-consumption rates are higher than among the overall population.
“What you drink can either positively or negatively impact your mind, your body and your health,” said Vish Vasani, a public health specialist with the Minneapolis Health Department. “Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to regularly consume sugary drinks.”
The result, Vasani said, is that obesity rates have grown across the city and the metro area. In Hennepin County, a third of residents are overweight and 20 percent are obese.
Vasani said many people are careful about their food choices but forget about the impact of their drinks.
She pointed to the American Heart Association’s recommendations for daily maximum sugar consumption, which amount to nine teaspoons for an adult man, or six teaspoons for an adult woman (roughly 36 or 24 grams.) A single sugary drink can pass that total quickly; a 12-ounce can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar, a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade has 34 grams and a medium caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks has 59 grams.
Organizers of the ReThink Your Drink campaign have illustrated those numbers with interactive displays at dozens of community events, in posters and on magnets; they’ve handed out water bottles and water containers to encourage people to switch their drinks.
Carl Lobley, a project group leader with TEENS, a youth leadership group, worked with young people in south Minneapolis’ Phelps Park and said he overheard conversations among kids who had decided to opt for water instead of something sweeter.
He said it is clear the way to get people to change their behavior is to get the advice from people who live in their neighborhoods — rather than doctors or others who might not be familiar faces.
“We are residents speaking to residents about their health,” he said.
Vasani said the campaign is seeking more funding from the Minnesota Department of Health to continue its work and broaden its efforts among Minneapolis’ East African residents.
Advocates of the effort are also interested in exploring how new legislation could help their efforts.
A few states and cities have explored putting a tax on soft drinks. Proposals have failed in several cities, but a new tax was approved in Berkeley, Calif., late last year. It charges soft drink distributors one cent per ounce of sweetened beverages they provide in the city. The tax brought in $116,000 in its first month.
This summer, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to require warning labels to be placed on all advertising for sugary drinks. The message warns that drinking the sweet stuff can lead to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
Other efforts have hit roadblocks, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large sugary drinks. That law was eventually overturned by the New York State Court of Appeals.
Council Member Jacob Frey said it’s important for the city to consider the “massive cost to society” that comes from people with unhealthy lifestyles who are more prone to illness and might have a harder time staying in the workforce.
Council Member Lisa Bender said she’s interested in recommendations for policies the city could enact to tackle the problem. She said the informational campaign is a good start.
“I think of these efforts as a very, very small contribution to stemming that tide and having very real financial implications for future policymakers as they deal with having a society that has more than half overweight and obese,” she said.