KU News Service

Community-based study shows potential to help cut sugary drink consumption

Fri, 02/07/2014

LAWRENCE — Sugary drinks are nearly ubiquitous in the United States, contributing to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and others. Yet there are almost no interventions designed to help adults reduce their consumption of the beverages, and none are focused on helping low-income, rural individuals with low health literacy. A University of Kansas professor has co-authored a study detailing an intervention designed to help that population increase their health and media literacy and thereby reduce their sugary drink consumption.

Yvonnes Chen, assistant professor of journalism, was co-author of a study designed to test a six-month, community-based intervention dedicated to helping individuals reduce the amount of sugary drinks they consume. Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the program worked with low-income individuals with low-health literacy in rural southwest Virginia. The researchers hope to investigate the effectiveness of the program in a community-based setting and further explore how they can make it available for communities who would like to implement it.

“Our goal is to reduce sugary drink consumption among rural adults with low health literacy, and they tend to drink more sugary drinks,” Chen said. “In essence, people who can’t afford to get sick are often the ones to most likely take part in unhealthy behaviors.”

Chen and co-authors designed an intervention called SIP smarter. They worked with individuals to increase their health literacy, providing education about health, risks associated with sugary drinks and how to reduce consumption. Details of the intervention content and data collection procedures were published in the journal Contemporary Clinical Trials. The study was co-authored by Jamie Zoellner, Brenda Davy, Valisa Hedrick, Terri Corsi and Paul Estabrooks, all of Virginia Tech University. While very few American adults adhere to the USDA’s recommendation of consuming less than 8 ounces of sugary drinks per day, the majority of the study’s participants were doing so by the time they completed the intervention, based on an initial analysis of the data.

The intervention used a variety of strategies to improve health literacy by giving participants quantitative information they could use in every-day decision making. Lessons included dangers of overconsumption illustrated by hands-on demonstrations such as showing participants the actual amount of sugar contained in beverages, conversations with their fellow participants and other hands-on activities.

Researchers also connected health literacy to media literacy, a topic they’ve explored in researching how media affects youths’ decisions on whether to start smoking. Television advertising is one of the most common forms of sugary drink messaging people receive. Yet, most don’t think of themselves as the product in the experience, but the lessons point out that in many ways they are, as beverage manufacturers buy time from networks to access people with messages for their product.

“Even if we deny their validity, these messages have an effect on us,” Chen said. “They’re everywhere in our lives, and we see them every day.”

The program also provided strategies for individuals to reduce their sugary drink consumption. Many participants claimed they don’t like the taste of diet or sugar-free drinks, yet in a blind taste test they could rarely tell the difference. Others claimed not to like the taste of water. The program suggested overcoming that with lemon in water or by using sugar-free water flavoring packets. Lessons also included a look at the cost of sugary drinks, not only in money people can save by not buying them, but the comparative cost of the beverages next to the cost of health care required for health problems associated with excessive sugary drink consumption.

Following the intervention, preliminary results indicated that participants all had improved health and media literacy, and perhaps most importantly, many had also reduced their consumption to the recommended 8 ounces or less per day and stuck with it. Chen said the community-based setting, and not using fear tactics like many programs do, is likely why it was successful. The fact that it was community-based and not carried out in a clinical setting was also key. Researchers hope to continue to evaluate the intervention and examine ways that it can be made available in an affordable way that communities can use on their own.

“What’s unique about this is we rooted everything in the community, not in a clinical setting,” Chen said. “I think it’s something we could incorporate into efforts to give people ownership in their health so they can make informed decisions and are not just being preached to.”

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Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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