Banning the sale of soda at work could cut consumption by 50%

Banning sodas in the office could cut consumption of the sugary beverages in half and help workers lose weight, new research suggests. 

Nearly 70 percent of people whose workplaces cut out fizzy drinks saw their waistlines shrink after bans were put into place, according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). 

With about a third of Americans classified as obese, cutting out high-sugar, high-fat foods and drinks is crucial to improving public health and cutting rates of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. 

And the new study suggests that simply making them less available in places that people spend much of their time – like at the office – can nudge people away from sodas without going to such extremes as outlawing the unhealthy drinks. 

Simply taking soda out of workplace vending machines and kitchens could cut the consumption of fattening sweetened drinks by up to 50% and help workers lose weight, according to a new University of California, San Francisco study (file) 

 A recent review of research on beverage consumption and obesity found that swapping in just one glass of water instead of a sugary drink (or beer) a day can reduce the incidence of obesity. 

There’s no longer any doubt that sodas, energy drinks and even fruit juices with sugar added contribute directly to the risks of people becoming overweight or obese. 

But sodas in particular are carefully formulated to make you keep coming back or more. 

So getting Americans to step away from the soft drinks is easier said than done. 

Wholesale prohibitions don’t tend to go over so well – as the US found out during the alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s – and simply telling people their sodas could make them fat doesn’t seem to go far enough.  

Public health experts and city and state governments have sought more moderate ways to reduce soda consumption among both adults and children in the US. 

New York City, for example, attempted to put a cap on the size of sugary drinks in 2013. 

The city wanted to ban the sale of any sodas or sweetened beverages over 16 oz. 

But the next year, courts ruled that the Board of Health was overreaching its authority by banning big drinks, and the bill was overturned. 

So governments are perhaps not well positioned to regulate what people can and can’t consume, but that doesn’t mean that businesses, schools or workplaces have to sell unhealthy beverages. 

UCSF researchers speculated that if drinks weren’t readily available on campus, school employees wouldn’t go to the trouble of purchasing soda elsewhere and bringing it to work with them. 

To test their theory, they recruited 202 university employees, some of whom said they drank sugar-sweetened drinks daily. 

‘This is a group of people who were at high risk for early onset of metabolic diseases and probably cancers as well,’ said lead study author Dr Elissa Epel. 

‘They were drinking at least one sugared beverage a day. 

‘The participants who were overweight or obese already had very high levels of insulin resistance, in the pre-diabetic range, and the lean participants were also insulin resistant.’ 

The study started just before UCSF elected to stop selling sweetened beverages across its entire campus, in 2015.  

Half of the participants were given a motivational lecture on the reasons giving up soda would be good for them.

Participants in both groups drank less soda on average. 

The daily average was a whopping 35 oz of soda a day at the study’s start. By the end of the 10 months, average daily drinking was down to 18 oz, a 48.5 decrease from day one. 

And the group that was given the talking to about the risks of soda consumption cut back even further, to just 9.6 oz a day on average.

‘Regardless of whether they were overweight or lean, most of the participants in the study tended to lose belly fat when they were offered a healthier beverage selection at work,’ said Dr Epel.  

About 70 percent of the employees had slimmer waists by the end of the study period. 

‘This was not a ban on the consumption of sugared beverages,’ emphasized senior author Dr Laura Schmidt. 

‘People could still bring them from home or buy them off campus. This study demonstrates the value in rigging workplace environments to support people’s health rather than the opposite. 

‘UCSF simply took sugary drinks out of workplace vending machines, break rooms and cafeterias, and wound up improving employees’ health.’