By Lisa Rapaport
(Reuters Health) – Banning sales of sweetened beverages in the workplace may be one way to help employees consume fewer sugary drinks and slim down, a recent study suggests.
Researchers followed 214 employees at the University of California, San Francisco after a ban on workplace soda sales. At the start of the study, participants consumed an average of 35 ounces a day of sweetened drinks.
Six months after the sales ban took effect, participants’ consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas, sports or energy drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and bottled coffee or tea drinks dropped to 18 ounces a day. Participants’ average waist circumference also decreased by 2.1 centimeters (0.83 inch) during the study.
“We were delighted to find that people were making a concerted effort to drink less ‘liquid sugar’ and that they reduced their intake equally at work and at home,” said Elissa Epel, vice chair of psychiatry at UCSF.
“We didn’t just reduce sales, we educated people as to why,” Epel said by email. “They knew sugared drinks were affecting their liver health, even if they were not overweight.”
All of the participants were exposed to the sweetened-drinks ban, and half of them also met with health educators for brief motivational interviews designed to help them understand how much sugar is in these kinds of beverages and set goals for reducing their consumption. People in the education group also received three calls to check in on their progress in cutting back on sugary drinks over the first six months of the sales ban.
With that extra education and support, people reduced soda consumption by an average of 25.4 ounces a day, compared with only 8.2 ounces for people exposed to the sales ban alone.
Among people who were not overweight or obese, average daily sugary drink consumption dropped by about 6.2 ounces a day after the sales ban, while it declined 19.6 ounces a day, on average, among people who were overweight or obese.
Participants’ average age was 41 and almost half were obese. Most of them worked in service or technical jobs, or in medical or academic jobs on campus or at the UCSF hospital.
One limitation of the study is that every participant was exposed to the sales ban, so researchers couldn’t compare what happened in a control group of individuals who retained the ability to buy soda at work.
Still, the results suggest that employers may be able to help people make healthy lifestyle choices that they might struggle to achieve on their own, said Laura Schmidt, senior author of the study and a professor in the school of medicine at UCSF.
“Encourage your employer to create a healthier workplace food environment or start a movement yourself to stop sales of sugar-sweetened beverages – this is actually how the sales ban at UCSF started,” Schmidt said by email.
UCSF has a free toolkit (https://bit.ly/2JDiIeC) online for anyone who wants to start a workplaces sugary-drinks sales ban, Schmidt added.
People who don’t have the ability to start a sales ban at work can still try to enlist friends and family to help them cut back on soda, Epel advised.
“Don’t rely on willpower, create a healthy environment as best you can,” Epel said. “Educate your family and roommates about the toxic effects of drinking sugary beverages.”
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2BXHCBm JAMA Internal Medicine, online October 28, 2019.