Researchers from the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research helped inform new public service advertisements created by the New York Department of Health to educate youth about the dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Researchers working on the ACT for Youth project conducted two rounds of focus groups in the summer/fall of 2017 and spring of 2018 to test possible messages that would encourage young minority males to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.
“The story demonstrates our ability to conduct research with youth across the state in order to help NYSDOH better serve and reach youth, ultimately helping—we hope– to improve health,” said Karen Schantz, the communications coordinator for ACT For Youth.
A significant number of youth drink sugary beverages regularly. In one study conducted from 2011-2014, more than 60 percent of adolescent boys drank a sugar-sweetened beverage each day. This is alarming considering there is clear evidence that these beverages are associated with obesity, poor dental health and other health problems.
Amanda Purington, the director of evaluation and research for ACT for Youth, managed the focus groups. In them, groups of adolescent boys from western and central New York answered questions about the definition of “sugary” beverages and how much they consumed, and then evaluated sample ads created to encourage youth to avoid sweetened beverages.
“Many of the young people we talked with thought that sports drinks were healthy drinks and if they engaged in an athletic endeavor, they needed to drink them to replace electrolytes,” Purington said. “So, unfortunately, the marketing by the sports drink companies is working! On the whole, the youth were surprised by the amount of sugar in sports drinks because they really thought they were healthy drinks.”
Youth preferred ads with information, such as the amount of sugar in different kinds of sugary drinks. The most well-received ads struck a balance between providing information and delivering that information in a clear, concise – and often visual – way.
“They also liked having alternatives suggested, like ‘quench your thirst with water instead,’” she said. “But they didn’t just want to be told what to do, they wanted to come to their own conclusions.
“They also wisely acknowledged that a media campaign like this might lead to some short-term behavior change, but may not lead to long-term behavior change, especially in communities where sugary beverages are ingrained in the culture.”
The New York State Department of Health’s media campaign is now live.