Boston high school students drinking fewer sugary beverages

August 11, 2011

A study published in Preventing Chronic Disease shows that changing school policy to limit or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages may result in declining consumption of those beverages.

Beginning in the 2004–05 school year, the Boston School Committee prohibited public schools in the city from selling soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks anywhere in school buildings or on campus. To assess the impact of the policy change on students city-wide, researchers surveyed more than 1,000 students at 17 Boston, Mass., high schools. To compare Boston students with adolescents nationwide, they used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2003–04 and 2005–06.

Researchers tracked sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among students in grades 9–12 for two years and found a significant decrease—from 1.71 average servings per day in 2004 to 1.38 servings in 2006. This reduction, roughly 45 fewer calories per day, included students’ total daily consumption of such drinks, both during and outside of the school day. A serving was defined as one can or glass, with a 20-oz bottle counting as two servings.

Researchers analyzed nationwide data and found no comparable decrease in teens’ daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, in contrast to the decrease they saw in Boston. The data showed that teens nationwide consumed 1.74 servings of sugary drinks per day in 2003–04, and 1.66 servings in 2005–06, a small but statistically insignificant decline.

The authors concluded that the decreased consumption among Boston students indicates that prohibiting the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages on school campuses may be a promising strategy to reduce unnecessary caloric intake.