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WVU Extension Service helps residents “rethink their drink,” an important step in the battle against obesity

A child looks at a Rethink Your Drink display at the State Fair of West Virginia in 2018.

West Virginians have reached an important milestone in the battle against obesity and its related conditions — years ahead of schedule — thanks in large part to a West Virginia University program aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Rethink Your Drink campaign, launched by the WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program in 2013, takes several forms. A media blitz generating more than 28.4 million impressions via billboards, 4.7 million via radio, 5 million through TV commercials and 6.4 million impressions through a targeted digital campaign. Additionally, community engagement activities held at community events and locations like grocery stores, have reached 25,000 people per year over the last four years. 

Rethink Your Drink @ School and Rethink Your Drink @ Camp, which are educational programs aimed at reducing youths’ sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and boost water and milk consumption, reached more than 4,800 students in 23 schools and eight summer camps in 2018. 

Leaders at the 4-H camp in Gilmer County decided in 2018 to remove all sugary drinks from its cafeteria and snack machines as a result of the Rethink Your Drink program. In addition, 20 refillable water bottle stations have been installed at 10 schools, which created easier access to water for around 6,350 students. 

“When we started the campaign, our goal was to raise awareness,” Kristin McCartney, WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program specialist and assistant professor, said. “But we also have been able to influence changes—like installing refillable water bottle stations in schools—which improves access to water over the long term.”

Data shows that Rethink Your Drink programs are in fact changing participants’ drinking habits. According to surveys distributed to parents and guardians after the Rethink Your Drink programs were implemented at schools, 43 percent of the youths drank more water after participating and 29 percent drank fewer sweetened drinks. What’s more, 40 percent of respondents reported their whole family now drank more water and 26 percent of families drank fewer sweetened drinks.

Reducing sugary drink consumption is one of the main goals of West Virginia Healthy People 2020, a WVDHHR initiative to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases.

“Healthy People 2020 is an important initiative working to improve the overall health of West Virginians. Through a collaborative effort and strategies, such as the Rethink Your Drink campaign, West Virginians have decreased their daily sugary beverage consumption and are on the path to a healthier tomorrow,” said Jessica Wright, director of WVDHHR’s Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease.

Read more about Rethink Your Drink.