Category Archives: DIABETES

Sugary drinks are sweet, cheap and easy to get

Nearly HALF (47%) of the added sugar in the average American diet is consumed in the form of sodas and other sugary drinks. Sugary drinks include regular sodas (non-diet), fruit juices, sports drinks, flavored milk, energy drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas.

I used to think that consumption of soda or sugary drinks was not a public health threat because I thought they were an occasional treat—not a staple of the American diet. When I was growing up, I had two sodas a year. Soda was a special treat I got on school field trips. Now, they’re a regular part of the American diet. In Oregon, more than 177 million gallons of sugary drinks are consumed each year. That amounts to approximately one gallon per week for every single person in the state.

Consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks contributes to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and poor oral health. These chronic diseases have a crushing impact on our healthcare system and greatly affect quality of life. Each year, Oregon spends about $1.6 billion in medical expenses for obesity-related chronic conditions and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Drinking this “liquid candy” provides excessive calories. People do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from food, and they do not compensate by eating less. The average 20-ounce serving of soda contains about 240 calories and over 16 teaspoons of sugar, with little to no other nutrient value.  That’s more sugar than the average adult should consume in an entire day!


It wasn’t always that way. The availability of sugary drinks is triple what it was 60 years ago. Beverage makers sell products in grocery stores and convenience stores, gas stations, drug stores, business supply stores, sports stadiums, concession stands, movie theaters, airports, casinos, restaurants, museums, hospitals, prisons and everywhere they can install a vending machine. Anytime you desire a soda, you can get one—often at less expense than a bottle of water. The incessant prevalence of soda and soda marketing (consider how often you see vending machines) also drives demand. Even if you haven’t been thinking about wanting a soda, your exposure to the vending machine and other marketing materials will suddenly create that desire for you. And that’s true across the state, from a small Eastern Oregon town to the Portland metro area.

The size of America’s sodas has also ballooned. When my parents were growing up, a standard soft drink bottle was 6.5 ounces.  Today, sodas are available in much larger sizes. The average single serving soda size is 42 oz.


Source: Fact Sheet: Sugary Drink Supersizing and the Obesity Epidemic. 

When I think about the impact of sugary drinks, I am reminded of the similarities to tobacco. Just like tobacco, sugary beverages are sweet, cheap and easy to get. Sugary drinks and tobacco are not necessary for health or well-being, but are widely consumed. Additionally, similar to tobacco, sugary drinks are marketed extensively to children, adolescents and low-income groups most at risk of becoming overweight and dealing with the consequences. Soda consumption, and tobacco use, is highest among such groups.

Marketing data demonstrates the clear targeting of specific communities. African American children and teens see more than twice as many ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks on TV compared with white children and teens.  According to a study from the Rudd Center for  Food Policy and Obesity, advertising for sugary drinks on Spanish-language TV increased by 44% from 2010 to 2013.



A comprehensive review by the Institute of Medicine concluded that food marketing affects children’s food preferences, purchase requests, diets and health. Low-income children of all racial backgrounds are twice as likely to drink one liter (34 oz.) of sugary beverages per day, compared to other kids.

So what can we, as Oregonians, do to counter the threat sugary drinks pose to health? As a community, we can support efforts to reduce the affordability, acceptability, appeal and availability of sugary drinks.  The Oregon State Health Improvement Plan presents evidence-based strategies to reduce the consumption of sugary beverages, including:

  • Increasing the price of sugary drinks
  • Increasing the number of private and public businesses, and other places, that adopt standards for healthy beverages

For more facts about the impact of sugary drinks on Oregonians, click here.

Curious about a chronic disease topic you’d like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below. 



Candy-flavored Tobacco is a Trick, not a Treat—and It’s for Sale in Your Neighborhood

Every day, tobacco companies market their addictive products to Oregon kids and teens by making them look, smell and taste like candy. Tobacco companies are so adept at this targeted trickery, many adults don’t even notice it.

For all of us who care about Oregon and the ways that our communities help, or harm, our health, it’s time to take a closer look. Candy-Jars-IMG_2081_Cropped

  • A wide array of tobacco products, easily accessible to kids and teens today, are packaged and flavored to be nearly indistinguishable from candy.
  • These flavored little cigars, cigarillos and hookah tobacco are dressed up in shiny, brightly-colored wrappers and tins.
  • They are sweetened with the same chemicals used to flavor popular kids’ products like LifeSavers™ and Kool-Aid™.
  • Despite fruity and kid-friendly names like grape, chocolate, “vivid vanilla” and “cherry crush,” these products contain nicotine and are as dangerous and addictive as cigarettes.

Tobacco companies say they add sweet and fruity flavors to tobacco because grownups like sweet stuff, too. Yet new numbers show that Oregon kids are far more likely than adults to use flavored tobacco.

In contrast, about 15 percent of adult tobacco users in Oregon use flavored tobacco products according to the most recent Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. Among youth tobacco users, more than half (60%) of 8th graders and more than two-thirds (68%) of 11th graders used flavored tobacco, according to the 2015 Oregon Healthy Teens survey.

Clearly, tobacco companies’ targeted marketing to young people is working. Their tactics are on display in the gas stations, convenience stores and other retailers where most tobacco is sold in Oregon. Young people visit these stores often: More than half of 8th graders (58%) and 11th graders (57%) in Oregon shop in a convenience store at least once a week.

Over the past few years, public health workers and community members in every Oregon county coordinated visits to stores that sell tobacco and documented that nearly all of them—nine in ten—sell flavored tobacco products (when menthol cigarettes are included, that percentage climbs to 98 percent).


Tobacco companies claim these flavored tobacco products, such as cotton candy flavored cigarillos, aren’t meant for kids, who can’t legally buy them. Yet the data clearly show that the majority of kids who use tobacco products are using flavored tobacco products. Because the candy and fruit flavors attract kids—and because they mask the natural harsh taste of tobacco—they make it easier for kids to experiment with tobacco, and easier for kids to become addicted.

In the case of menthol-flavored tobacco products, that minty flavor also has a soothing effect on the lungs that reduces the irritation and discomfort associated with smoking—similar to the way a mentholated cough drop soothes a sore, scratchy throat.

An Oregon retailer sells flavored little cigars next to candy.

An Oregon retailer sells flavored little cigars next to candy.

Fortunately, a growing number of Oregon kids won’t be fooled by the tobacco companies’ candy-flavored tactics. Students in Hood River High School’s Health Media Club and the Rebels of Portland’s Madison High School are educating their siblings and peers about how tobacco companies target young people, and about the dangers of tobacco. These teens set an empowering example for the rest of us for how to push back against tobacco companies’ influence and harmful effects on all Oregonians.

We can join them by noticing what’s for sale in our communities, talking with the young people in our lives about what we find, and sharing photos on social media to #whatsforsale.

We can connect with the Oregon Tobacco Prevention and Education Program (TPEP) coordinators in our individual counties and tribes to meet others who care about these issues and are working to make our communities healthier.

We can help young Oregonians avoid a lifetime of addiction and build a healthier state—by refusing to fall for the sweet tricks of the tobacco companies.


Curious about a chronic disease topic you’d like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below.


Welcome to Health Within Reach: Talking about Place Matters

Anyone involved in public health in Oregon is familiar with the idea that “place matters,” shorthand for how the social conditions in which we live affect our health. These conditions are key to reducing the physical and financial toll of chronic disease on our state. Public health isn’t alone in this conversation—far from it. Oregonians representing a wide range of professions and passions have long known how place matters to people’s lives and well-being. Recently I’m hearing this civic conversation growing louder and helping to shape our places in ways that prioritize health.

These wide-ranging voices were the animating force of our most recent Place Matters Oregon (PMO) conference in Portland. The 500-plus attendees and speakers went far beyond the folks you might expect at a public heath gathering, to include land use planners, teachers, affordable housing advocates, transportation officials, community activists, state legislators, a library director and conservationists.

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