Tools and Education Can Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption for Low-Income Latino Families

As the White House prepares for the first conference on hunger, nutrition and health in more than 50 years, public health officials are pointing out that providing access to safe drinking water should be part of the national conversation. Low-income and minority populations in the United States are less likely to drink plain water and also have negative perceptions about tap water, which has been associated with the consumption of high-sugar drinks. This can lead to health problems ranging from cavities to high BMI and risk factors for diabetes.

Two new studies from the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University suggest that providing low-income families with a low-cost water filter pitcher to use at home increases their water consumption and reduces their consumption of sugary drinks.

“These findings are the first to confirm, in an interventional study, that providing access to safe and affordable tap water in the United States can significantly reduce the intake of sugary drinks among low-income families,” said Oriwan Colon Ramos, associate professor at George said the University of Washington’s Milken Institute Institute of Public Health is a senior author on both papers. “We already know that drinking water is good for you, but these findings now suggest that water security is a key factor when considering healthy lifestyle interventions for low-income and minority groups.”

In the first study, Colon-Ramos and colleagues studied 92 parents of infants/toddlers who participated in Early Head Start programs serving low-income, predominantly Hispanic communities in the Washington metropolitan area. The team found that when given a water filter, even with no other interventions, families were more likely to start drinking more water and significantly reduce their consumption of sugary drinks. Families who received filtered water in addition to a 12-week educational and motivational intervention to replace sugary drinks and fruit juice with filtered tap water also significantly reduced their intake of sugary drinks and their consumption of fruit juice.

In the second study, Colon Ramos and colleagues focused on explaining how a low-cost water filter pitcher helped parents reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and increase their water intake. The team conducted in-depth interviews and found that using a water filter improves the flavor of tap water and increases parents’ perceptions of water safety. With safe drinking water at home, parents did not feel obligated to buy bottled water and consume ration water as before. The increase in water consumption has replaced the intake of other beverages, such as sugary drinks, fruit juice, and sports drinks.

“We already knew that safe drinking water is good for you. The United Nations says that having access to adequate, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water is a basic human right. What we didn’t know is that when this is a human right it has been violated. Or when access to it is inconsistent, which can and does happen in communities in the United States, this can contribute significantly to individuals’ choice to drink sugary beverages.” Colon Ramos explained.

Explains William Dietz, president of the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, which helped fund the studies, explains. “Public health practitioners are always seeking affordable and accessible interventions to improve health outcomes, and these studies provide us with insights that can be applied more broadly to reduce intake of sugary drinks.”

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George Washington University

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