Web Site Raises Awareness on Sugars

In an effort to draw attention to Americans’ overconsumption of sugared drinks, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have renovated a Web site that provides detailed information and practical tips for people to make healthy dietary choices.

The researchers added an extensive section called “Choosing Health Drinks” earlier this week to Nutrition Source—a Web site maintained by HSPH faculty that aims to translate nutrition research into easy-to-understand information for the public and policy makers.

“In the last several years there’s been a body of new data showing the adverse relationship between sugared drinks and obesity and Type II diabetes,” said Walter C. Willett, chair of the nutrition department. “This problem now has an urgency that did not exist five years ago.”

Researchers decided to expand Nutrition Source—accessible online at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/—in order to raise awareness among a public they say is largely unaware of the amount of sugar they consume in liquid form.

The new features on the Web site display graphics comparing the amount of sugar in popular brands of carbonated soft drinks, fruit juice, fruit punch, energy drinks, and others.

According to Lilian Cheung—the editorial director for Nutrition Source—the goal of the online renovations is not just to teach people how to make personal health choices, but also to create an environment that’s conducive for individuals to make these healthy choices.

“That’s why we’re trying to draw attention from all sectors of society,” said Cheung.

The researchers have also used the Web site as a platform to call for action by the government and business corporations.

The Web site pushes for beverage manufacturers to produce drinks with one gram of sugar per ounce, a 70 percent reduction that Willett said would constitute “a huge improvement.”

The Web site also proposes that the FDA mandate the amount of sugar to be labeled in the nutrition labels as per-bottle as opposed to per-serving.

Willett said that these changes would reduce Americans’ penchant for sugar and condition their palates to a lower level of sweetness.

According to Nutrition Source, four out of five U.S. children and two out of three U.S. adults drink sugar-sweetened beverages each day, with the popular twelve-ounce can of soft drink or juice containing anywhere from ten to twelve teaspoons of refined sugar.

“If you think about downing twelve teaspoon of sugar, that would make you gag,” said Willett. “But everyday a large majority of Americans unknowingly do just that.”

—Staff writer Helen X. Yang can be reached at hxyang@fas.harvard.edu.

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