NEVHC’s Champions For Change Trying to Lessen the Northeast Valley’s

Consumption of Sugary Drinks

Drink water.

In fact, drink as much as you can, as opposed to filling up on carbonated sodas and flavored-drinks weighted down with sugar.

Water remains as the best alternative to the gallons of sugary sodas and drinks consumed each day, not only in the San Fernando Valley but in the state and nation as well.

That was one of several messages presented during a “Rethink Your Drink” exhibit at the Northeast Valley Health Corporation (NEVHC) clinic in the City of San Fernando, at a health fair exhibit on Wednesday, May 16.

Regular intake of sugary sodas can wreak havoc on the body, according to Kimberly Prezioso, MS, RDN and CLE, who works as a public relations coordinator for Champions For Change, which put on the exhibit. 

“In one soda you can get anywhere from 14 to 22 teaspoons of sugar,” Prezioso said. “You don’t eat that much sugar, so why are you drinking that much?

Prezioso also provided some other sobering data. 

According to the LA County: A Cities and Communities Health Report, obesity-related chronic illnesses continue to rank among the top ten leading causes of premature death, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

While the obesity epidemic continues to impact virtually all population groups, about 27.6 percent of children and 24.9 percent of adults in Los Angeles City Council District 6; 29.1 percent of children and 26.1 percent of adults in District 7 — both Northeast Valley area districts — and 27.4 percent of children specifically in the City of San Fernando are considered obese.

“In comparison,” Prezioso said, “children in Calabasas have an obesity rate of about four percent. The disparity is massive.”

Latinos in LA county have the highest obesity rate for adults at 29.4 percent and the second highest for school-aged children at 27.5 percent.

California has the highest rate for obesity among children ages 2 through 4. And nationally, 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children (ages 2 to 19) is considered overweight.

“Obesity is a huge problem for our nation,” Prezioso said. “And childhood obesity is right up there, too. Even though we’ve  made some progress slowing down how fast the obesity rate is, it’s still progressing and not where it should be.”

Sugary drinks add more sugar to our diet than any other food or beverage source. According to Prezioso, people who drink one or more sugary drinks per day have a 26 percent higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than those who do not drink sugary drinks, or drink less than one serving a month.

Latino and African American communities have a high propensity for diabetes.

The added sugar in these drinks provide extra calories without extra nutrition. The added sugar from these drinks may contribute to tooth decay, increase the risk of obesity, and increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So too much sugar can not only cause disease, it can literally kill.

She said that lower-income communities often find themselves targeted by marketing companies for sugary drinks and fast foods “because those populations are rising and are having more money to spend” on fast food, which might be viewed as cheaper to buy bat in the long run could cause health problems down the road.

In the City of San Fernando, school kids often frequent the McDonalds that is en route to both the elementary and middle schools.

Research also shows that food companies spend millions of dollars and years of studies creating a taste for foods and drinks that can actually override the brain’s signal to the body that enough has been consumed.

“It makes it more lucrative for companies to go after those dollars,” Prezioso said. “You can have a ‘food swamp’ and a ‘food desert’ — which is no access to healthy, fresh produce and wholesome foods while being inundated by fast foods — in the same neighborhoods.”

Those marketing campaigns can parallel efforts by the tobacco industry campaigns to entice youth and young adults to take up smoking cigarettes.  

“In other countries around the world there has been legislation enacted to kind of diminish the effective marketing on kids and lower-income people. But our country hasn’t done that,” she said.

Prezioso did note efforts of late to add tax to sugary drinks and sodas but insists, “the marketing is still a massive problem. Toddlers can’t differentiate between fantasy and reality. They see something on TV and they don’t think ‘they’re trying to get something from me.’

“They are vulnerable and highly susceptive to marketing. And the sheer volume of marketing these days is crazy. Companies are pouring billions of dollars into targeting kids and low-income families. And not just on TV, but social media, through celebrities…it’s everywhere.”

Monsi Portillo, who presented literature and water samples to people, said “we want our community members to learn more about healthy beverages and drinks, and opt out of the sugary drinks. It’s a big fight…[sodas] are certainly ingrained in the culture. But we’re trying to give people different options so they can make better choices.”

NEHVC is sponsoring Champions For Change through a three-year, $880,000 grant awarded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health with funding from the California Department of Public Health and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Rosa Rodriguez, who was visiting the clinic, listened closely to the presentation by Portillo, and drank a sample of the spa water flavored by mint julep and strawberries.

“Water is better for you. Soda has sugar. Water does not,” said Rodriguez, who mentioned she has type 2 diabetes. “I’m all into getting my health together.”