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You are what you drink: New Yorkers urged to cut back on sugary drinks

August 31, 2009 |  3:28 pm

Health crusades are getting a little more in your face these days, not shying away from the hard sell. Take the latest public awareness campaign from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Image009 "Are you Pouring on the Pounds?" reads the poster as a bottle of soda pours into a glass. But as the soda hits the glass, it turns into a huge gob of yellow fat. Ew. The campaign draws attention to sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, iced teas, coffee beverages and fruit drinks that contain more sugar than many people realize. According to the department, a 20-ounce cola has 250 calories and 16 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, and a 16-ounce iced white chocolate mocha has 340 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar. The poster also admonishes people "Don't drink yourself fat," and reminds them to cut back on sugary beverages, and instead substitute water, seltzer or low-fat milk.

"One common theme in addressing the issue of obesity for all ages is the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages," says Cathy Nonas, the department's director of physical activity and nutrition programs. "As time goes on, not only are portion sizes getting bigger, but the variety of beverages is getting larger too," she adds. "More and more people of all ages, from preschool on up, are consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, and it's an important piece to educate people on." Research studies have shown that more people are consuming an increasing number of calories from sugary drinks than in previous years.

In New York, 1,500 posters will be put in subways, and the message will get out via the department's health bulletins and the New York City Health Department's blog. Although Nonas says her budget is limited (and she wouldn't mind a grant or two), man-on-the-street interviews will be conducted to see what impact the campaign is having.

"We've been successful with this type of campaign on tobacco," Nonas says, "and we're definitely hoping this does shock people and make them think twice before spending money on empty calories."

Photo: The poster aims to discourage New Yorkers from imbibing sugar-sweetened drinks. Credit: New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene