20 schools participate in study of sugar-sweetened drinks

Central Coast Local Health District (CCLHD) is leading an Australian-first study into the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks by adolescents, with 20 schools on the Coast taking part.

The Thirsty? Choose Water! Study will examine consumption habits, attitudes, and knowledge of secondary school students regarding water and sugar-sweetened drinks.

Eighty-five schools from across the state, including the 20 on the Coast, will receive educational resources to deliver as part of the curriculum and materials to promote water, chilled water stations installed on site, or both.

CCLHD will also develop a framework for broader community adoption, with resources and toolkits made available to schools and parents, and an educational game launched to further engage young people in water education.

Statistics show that more than half of NSW children aged 12–15 consume sugar-sweetened drinks daily, and more than one in five children aged 5-16 years is above a healthy weight range.

CCLHD Health Promotion Director, Nicole Kajons, said while these figures indicate a worrying trend, the research will help shape strategies to address the issue and promote healthier habits.

“Childhood and adolescent overweight and obesity in Australia is a significant public health issue, and the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, which is particularly high among high school students, is a key contributing factor to this,” she said.

“Evidence also suggests that decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks can impact positively on childhood weight.

“However, in the Australian context there are limited studies on how this may occur in the secondary school setting.

“The Thirsty? Choose Water! study seeks to establish how effective promotion and education, as well as the installation of chilled water stations, can be in changing adolescents’ habits by getting them to replace their sugary drink with water.”

One school which has jumped on board is St Edward’s College at East Gosford.

Personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE) teacher, Michael Gentle, said the program was already showing results at the college.

“We ran the Thirsty? Choose Water educational module for our Year Seven students this year,” Gentle said.

“This involved lessons about the benefits of drinking water and the problems association with sugary drinks.

“We also had a filtered water refill station installed as part of the initiative and it is really helping to change the culture within the school.

“We always had bubblers but having that chilled filtered water available has got kids bringing reusable drink bottles to school.

“We have a strong environmental portfolio here and the water station links in well with reusable drink bottles, encouraging single use plastics.

“Eventually our student-led environmental portfolio would like to see reusable water bottles with the school logo included in every Year Seven pack distributed.”

Gentle said the school was looking into the provision of a second water-refill station.

“We often see lines of kids filling up at the water station, especially on hot days, so we’re looking at funding for another one,” he said.

Gentle said there had been a marked decrease in sugary drinks consumed in school grounds, with fewer bottles going into the school’s collection bins for Return and Earn bottles.

“We’re hoping all this will lead students to making healthy choices,” he said.

Terry Collins