Race & Sugar Sweetened Beverages: A Targeted Health Nightmare

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

The risk of diabetes directly correlates with body weight. In America, the obesity epidemic begins in childhood. The consumption of high sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages is common in kids and predicts the occurrence of both obesity and dental disease. The dental diseases are predictably caries and periodontal disease. Parents and health care workers are challenged to reverse the trend towards the overconsumption of these high-sugar drinks through education and early interventions.

However, access to health care workers and high-quality culturally-appropriate educational materials is not evenly distributed. Major differences exist in eating habits and access to care between children in rural and urban areas, particularly in ethnic minority people. Minorities often have limited access to care, either due to geographic, economic, or educational barriers. Many minorities do not recognize the risks implicit in certain health-related behaviors such as drinking large volumes of high-calorie, high sugar energy drinks.

A recent study by Rudiak1 explored the extent of health care disparities in rural North Carolina. Her goal was to understand the relationship between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, and dental caries prevalence by race and demographics. The study evaluated data from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in a rural health department, working with a public health nurse and a bilingual nutritionist. The study population was the mothers of 31 children of whom 10 were white, 14 were Latino, and 7 were black. All children were between the ages of 2 and 5. The purpose of this study was to examine the consumption of SSB among children living in rural eastern North Carolina in relation to body mass index and dental caries.

The team identified the overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in 87% of the children studied. Latino children were most likely to be obese (56%). Notably, 29% of children between the ages of 2 and 3 were obese.

This study documented the urgent need for health care and educational interventions regarding childhood consumption of high-sugar beverages, particularly in the Latino population. This is a population that is already genetically predisposed to diabetes that is difficult to control.2 Targeted initiatives by health care workers and nutritionists may help to reach this group of people using culturally-relevant educational materials presented in different languages as indicated.

The study raised the issue of false advertising regarding sugar-sweetened beverages in rural communities. Some of this advertising may be crafted in such a way as to target certain populations, perhaps touting health benefits or social acculturation and acceptance by non-minorities. Health care providers are urged to review the marketing materials that are being served to their patients and intervene when necessary.


  • 1=Rudiak GE. An Examination of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Young Children in Eastern North Carolina: A Program Evaluation. (Honors Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/7319.)
  • Pérez-Escamilla R, Putnik P. The role of acculturation in nutrition, lifestyle, and incidence of type 2 diabetes among Latinos. The Journal of Nutrition. 2007 Apr 1;137(4):860-70.