Based on the community interviews we conducted regarding obesity among low income Latino males through their peers, there were several factors contributing to the high rates of soda consumption. This age group is heavily influenced by media and peer interactions. Therefore, we are proposing an intervention based in the school. By limiting soda access and substituting with water among all adolescents we are creating a culture of healthy behaviors, that are more likely to be reinforced. In addition, we learned that this age group is geared towards easy access and immediate satisfaction. Based on this information we assumed that, by increasing access to clean and safe water, we could increase their water intake. By restricting soda in public schools we decrease their access to sweetened beverages and increase the accessibility of water. We recognize that this intervention would also involve strategic planning of high traffic areas within each school and require funds to build and maintain these drinking fountains, which is why we have proposed the taxation of sweetened beverages.
We have tested our solution to the "seven characteristics of behavioral technology" a notable criterion offered by Stephen B. Fawcett in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. The substitution of water is highly effective and inexpensive. Levying a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will indirectly lower the risk of obesity and certain cardiac diseases due to an unhealthy diet. Increasing more water fountains is environmentally sustainable as well as replacing soda with water in vending machines. This idea is decentralized as it can in any low income community or school. Our approach is simple and compatible with low-income youth because this would save them time and money. Most adolescents spend a majority of their day in school, thus exposure to healthier options would promote healthier consumption behavior, therefore reducing the risk of adolescent obesity.
Our solutions could be furthered applied in other settings to better promote healthy lifestyle options. For example, the increase of safe drinking fountains could be implemented within all public areas such as parks and community centers. In addition to restriction of sugar-sweetened beverage sales, addressing the previously mentioned issue of high rates of convenience stores offering limited healthy foods would further benefit communities.
Editor's note: Reynolds, an undergraduate at UC Merced, wrote this as part of a course assignment to identify solutions to local public health issues. It is one of several student essays that will be appearing in the Sun-Star.