State health leaders focused on obesity prevention are working with Alaska dental providers to help reduce sugary drink consumption among children and families.
During January and February, Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program staff visited Bethel and Utqiagvik to train more than 80 dentists, dental assistants, and dental health aide therapists, as well as pharmacists, pediatricians, physician assistants and diabetes prevention professionals. The providers with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and Arctic Slope Native Association learned how to use a new, brief guide called “When Sugar is Not So Sweet.”
The trained dental providers are now using the guide to talk with families about the large amount of sugar hiding in many drinks, the health risks linked to that added sugar, and steps families can take to cut back on sugary drinks and choose water or milk instead. The brief guide is available for free online. A rack card about picking a plan to cut back on sugary drinks also is available online.
“This training gave our entire team knowledge and tools that we need to influence an efficient change in our community,” said Dr. Tucker Burnett, a dentist with YKHC. “With this training, we are better equipped to reach out and help adjust our patients’ thinking about what they drink.”
The new guide for dental providers offers another strategy to talk with families about the risks of eating and drinking too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugar in people’s daily diets.
“Too many of Alaska’s children and adults are drinking sugary beverages, often every single day,” said Karol Fink, the Obesity Prevention and Control Program manager who conducted the trainings. “About 40 percent of Alaska high school students report drinking at least one sugary drink every day. Almost 25 percent of Alaska adults say they drink a sugary drink every day.”
Just one sugary drink can have more added sugar than children and adults should have in one day, based on the added sugar limits in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Helping Alaskans cut back on added sugar can help prevent serious health problems that may start in childhood and last a lifetime, Fink said. These health problems include cavities, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In Alaska, about 1 out of 3 children is overweight or obese. About 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese.
The training offered for YKHC and Arctic Slope dental staff is part of a two-year pilot Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project. The project is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve dental health and prevent obesity and other chronic diseases in Alaska. The pilot is supported by the Alaska Dental Society; the Alaska Women’s, Children’s and Family Health, Oral Health program; and dental providers across the state.
The Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project also includes new public education materials focused on reducing sugary drink consumption. Two public service announcements will air on television and online this spring. One video announcement shows how cutting back on sugary drinks can help prevent serious health problems, including tooth decay and type 2 diabetes. The other video shows parents switching out unhealthy food items for healthier options at meals, but stresses that parents would be doing more to protect their children’s health if they also stopped serving them sugary drinks and served water or milk instead. Parents and their children also will see educational posters hanging in hundreds of schools across Alaska, as well as in public health centers, medical and dental clinics, and in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) offices. Alaskans will find related videos and educational posts on social media.
Visit our website to learn more about the Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project. Dental providers who want to know more about the guide can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photograph: Dr. Tucker Burnett and dental assistant Isaiah Anvil with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation received training to use the brief dental guide called "When Sugar Is Not So Sweet."