Why should we ban the sale of soft drinks at work?

30/10/2019

The ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in the workplace resulted in an average 48.5 percent reduction in consumption and significantly less abdominal fat among 202 participants in a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why should we ban the sale of soft drinks at work? Photo: Pixabay
Why should we ban the sale of soft drinks at work? Photo: Pixabay

At the end of the 10-month study, participants who had reduced their consumption of sugary beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and sweetened teas, also tended to show improved insulin resistance and lowered total cholesterol.

"This shows us that simply eliminating sales of sugary beverages in the workplace can have a significant effect on improving health in less than a year," says lead author Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at UCSF and director of the Center for Age, Metabolism and Emotions at UCSF.

High sugar intake leads to abdominal fat and insulin resistance, which are known risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and even dementia," she recalls. Recent studies have also linked sugar intake to early mortality.

The study began in the period before UCSF stopped selling sugar-sweetened beverages on all campuses and medical facilities by 2015. The participants, who were all UCSF employees, were re-evaluated 10 months after the sales ban began.

This was not a ban on the consumption of sugary beverages," said lead author Laura Schmidt, a UCSF professor at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. People could bring them from home or buy them off campus. This study demonstrates the value of manipulating work environments to support people's health rather than the other way around. The university simply took sugar-sweetened beverages out of workplace vending machines, break rooms and cafeterias, improving employee health.

The study included employees who had been described before the ban on sales as frequent consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages, as defined by drinking more than 0.3 liters per day. At the start of the study, participants drank an average of one liter of sugar-sweetened beverages per day. In the end, their average consumption dropped to half a liter, with a 48.5 percent decrease.

Half of the study participants were randomly selected to receive a brief motivational intervention on sugary beverage consumption, modeled on standard workplace alcohol use interventions. Among that group, consumption decreased by an average of 0.7 to 0.3 liters per day.

People in the study lost an average of 2.1 centimeters from their waist. Nearly 70 percent of the participants had a decrease in waist size, and most of this group also lost weight. Those who reduced their consumption of sugary drinks also showed a decrease in insulin resistance, although this was not true for all participants.

This is a group of people who were at high risk for early onset metabolic diseases and probably also for cancer," explains Epel. They were drinking at least one sugary drink a day. The overweight or obese participants already had very high levels of insulin resistance, in the pre-diabetic range, and the thin participants were also insulin resistant. Regardless of whether they were overweight or lean, most study participants tended to lose abdominal fat when offered a healthier choice of beverages at work.

Schmidt points out that attempts by governments to control or tax the sale of sugary beverages generally face political opposition, while eliminating private-sector sales is relatively easy.

"Instead of sugary soft drinks, workplaces can offer their employees flavored water, sparkling water, and sugar-free coffees and teas. They can also encourage people to drink water by installing attractive filtered water dispensing stations, as we increasingly see in airports and other public facilities," he suggests.

"This is a potential workplace solution to the growing epidemic of obesity-related diseases in the United States that is easy to achieve," Schmidt adds.

Epel points out that an important limitation of the study was that there was no control group from a comparable institution that did not prohibit sales of sugary beverages. However, he adds, "the natural tendency over a year is to gain a small amount of weight and abdominal fat.

Source: Europa Press

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