Sugar Bites – A Tool Educating Parents About Healthy Toddler Drinks
Guest blog post by Diane Dooley, MD, FAAP & Ali Uscilka, Executive Director, Healthy and Active Before 5
Although most parents realize that soda is not a healthy option for their kids many have no idea just how much sugar is in the beverages they serve to children. Sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in young children’s diets, in part because parents are influenced by confusing labels and the beverage industry’s misleading marketing tactics, including product placement and ads on children’s websites, social media, and video games. Families need information and enhanced awareness to avoid offering their children drinks with even more added sugar and calories than soda, such as juice, energy drinks, flavored milk, and sweetened waters and teas.
A successful social marketing campaign is now available to oral health providers and other early childhood providers working to support and motivate families to offer young children healthy drinks. Sugar Bites is an innovative campaign to counter the influence of sugary drink marketing and educate parents about healthier choices. In 2012, First 5 Contra Costa, Better World Advertising, and Healthy & Active Before 5 worked in partnership with low-income parents and key informants to design this campaign. The bilingual, low-literacy materials include both obesity prevention and oral health messaging paired with striking images of superimposed teeth on beverage packaging. One video, which can be shared electronically, features a young child pleading with her mother to purchase a juice drink in the grocery store. The mother is horrified when the container morphs into a toothy monster and she learns that consumption of sugary beverages can lead to tooth decay, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Sugar Bites urges parents to choose water for their kids instead of sugary drinks and provides additional resources and links to water-promotion sites for young children, such as Potter the Otter.
The campaign received a national Communicator’s Award of Excellence in 2014. In an informal evaluation, 90% of the low-income parents surveyed reported that they felt the campaign was “convincing”, and 45% reported that they were less likely to have sugary drinks at home and consume sugary drinks themselves after exposure to the campaign.
Oral health providers, primary care providers, educators and parents can download and share Sugar Bites posters, brochures, videos, and web graphics for free at cutsugarydrinks.org.