Kids in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood report drinking less soda

Youth in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood are consuming fewer sugary drinks, including soda, Gatorade, Vitaminwater, Sunny Delight and agua fresca, according to a health survey released this month.

Sonoma County health officials and educators said the declines coincide with several nutrition and wellness initiatives aimed at promoting healthy eating, exercise and reducing soda consumption. A big part of that effort has been installing water stations at all six Roseland School District campuses.

The changes have been incremental, but moving in the right direction, said Jessica Peterson, Roseland School District’s wellness coordinator.

“Every little bit has been making that pendulum swing to the right side,” Petersen said.

The student and parent survey was conducted between 2015 and 2017. It found a 19 percent decrease in the share of students reporting heavy soda consumption — four or more sodas in a week’s time. In 2017, 10.7 percent of youth reported doing so, compared to 13.2 percent in 2015.

The share of students who consumed no soda at all in the past week increased from 18.8 percent to 22.3 percent during that period.

The survey also found a 68 percent increase in the number of students who said they didn’t consume in the past week “other” sugary drinks, such as Sunny Delight, Vitaminwater, Gatorade, sweetened coffee or tea, agua fresca and horchata. In 2017, 35 percent of students reported staying away from the drinks, compared to nearly 21 percent in 2015.

Petersen said the water stations are part of a larger wellness and nutrition campaign that’s been waged in the Roseland School District for many years, but especially in the past five years. A key partner in that campaign is the Northern California Center for Well-Being, which frequently visits schools and does nutrition education for students and parents.

The center also sponsors a walking and running program called iDo26.2, which encourages students to walk, jog or run on school grounds until they accumulate the equivalent of a marathon. Of the 11,000 student participants countywide, 1,200 come for the Roseland School District, Petersen said.

Health care professionals say cutting back on sugary drinks is a good way for students to stay healthy and focused in school.

Dr. Lynn Mortensen, a family physician with Kaiser Permanente, said sugar is harmful to the liver in a way similar to alcohol. She said it can cause nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a condition that can irritate the liver, especially among those who are overweight.

Sugar also makes it harder for kids to concentrate in school, she said. A can of soda can cause blood sugar to rise and fall quickly, which can lead to mood swings and a loss of focus, she said.

Cutting out sugary drinks enhances the taste of healthier foods, such as fruit, Mortensen said.

“An apple tastes sweeter than it does when you’re eating it alongside a Coca Cola,” she said.

County health officials said residents living in Santa Rosa’s Roseland and Moorland neighborhoods are more likely to be overweight and at higher risk of adverse weight-related health consequences than people living in wealthier communities. The state’s 2015-2016 Physical Fitness Testing program found that 71 percent of fifth-graders in the Roseland School District were overweight, compared to 39 percent countywide.

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