NOVEMBER 15, 2022 — A new article published this week shows that a long-running health communication campaign in Alaska is changing the drinks parents serve to their young children.
The Play Every Day campaign run through the Alaska Department of Health has been sharing messages statewide to encourage families to cut back on sugary drinks — the leading source of added sugar in most people’s daily diets. Serving healthy drinks like water can reduce the amount of added sugar kids consume and help prevent serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, and cavities that can develop in childhood, as well as heart disease later in life.
The Play Every Day campaign shared several public service announcements (PSAs) with Alaska parents. These messages focused on the large amounts of sugar hiding in drinks, how to find that added sugar on labels, and ways to encourage choosing healthy drinks like water and plain milk.
“One out of 5 Alaska mothers of young children who had seen the Play Every Day campaign said they changed the drinks they served their family because of it,” said Katie Reilly, manager of Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Program. “That’s the ultimate goal of health communication campaigns like this — reaching Alaskans, improving their understanding of a health concern, and ultimately encouraging a positive change. Cutting back on serving sugary drinks during the early years of a child’s life can set them up for better drink choices, and better health, for years to come.”
Campaign evaluation shows health messages reaching Alaska families, leading to changes
The Alaska Department of Health shared Play Every Day’s success in an article published this month in Health Promotion Practice. This is a peer-reviewed journal, which means the featured article is examined by other experts in the field to ensure it is of high scientific quality prior to publication. The article explains the campaign evaluation that showed Play Every Day was reaching parents and leading to positive changes among Alaska mothers of 3-year-old children.
- In the past 12 months, 34% of mothers had seen the Play Every Day campaign about sugary drinks.
- Among mothers who had seen the campaign, 39% said the campaign gave them new information about drinks they served their children.
- Among mothers who had seen the campaign, 21% said they changed drinks they served their 3-year-old because of the campaign.
Play Every Day has been running for 10 years to support Alaska children growing up at a healthy weight. That’s an important goal in a state where about 1 out of 3 children has overweight or obesity. Play Every Day’s messages focus on two behaviors that help Alaska children — and their parents — maintain a healthy weight: getting daily physical activity and reducing the sugary drinks they consume, choosing water or plain milk instead.
Almost 1 out of 3 (31%) Alaska 3-year-olds has a sugary drink every day, according to the ongoing Childhood Understanding Behaviors Survey (CUBS) of Alaska mothers of preschool-age children. In 2020, the Alaska Department of Health started a new Play Every Day evaluation by adding questions to this CUBS survey. The questions asked about campaign messages that were running statewide, focused on serving fewer sugary drinks to young children. The first year of this evaluation was published in the new Health Promotion Practice journal.
The Health Promotion Practice journal published an article in November 2022 about a Play Every Day campaign evaluation. The evaluation showed that Alaska mothers changed the drinks they served their families because of the campaign.
Play Every Day partners with tribal health consortium to reach Alaska Native families
Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign works with partners that include the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), a statewide nonprofit Tribal organization that provides health care services, wellness and prevention programs, training and rural water and sanitation systems construction for Alaska Native people. This partnership with ANTHC — a trusted community-serving organization — played an important role in ensuring messages resonated across Alaska and were delivered to an Alaska Native audience.
“Reducing sugary drink consumption in young children is one of the key objectives for our statewide Healthy Alaskans 2030 health improvement plan,” said Dana Diehl, Director of Wellness and Prevention for ANTHC. “Partnering with Play Every Day is a key strategy in that effort. These efforts support the vision of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium that ‘Alaska Native people are the healthiest people in the world.’”
Many Alaskans consume sugary drinks daily, but improvements seen among young kids
Limiting or eliminating added sugar in foods and drinks is recommended for the best health. For adults and older children, the national dietary guidelines recommend limiting the amount of added sugar to less than 10 percent of total daily calories. Four leading health organizations published the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids report stating sugary drinks aren’t recommended for children ages 5 and younger. In 2020, a new national dietary guideline said to avoid any added sugars in foods and drinks served to children younger than 2.
Sugary drinks include any drinks with added sugar: soda, sports and energy drinks, vitamin drinks, sweetened coffee and tea. Alaska parents have said that the most common sugary drinks they serve their little kids are sweetened fruit drinks, sweetened powdered mixes, and chocolate and other flavored milks.
Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program has been using many strategies, including the Play Every Day campaign, to encourage families to choose healthy drinks like water or plain milk instead of sugary drinks. The program helped child care providers implement national standards for nutrition, physical activity, and breastfeeding in child care centers and preschools. The program worked with ANTHC to support a new healthy food and drink policy on the ANTHC campus that limits the amount of sugary drinks available, prioritizes serving water, and encourages eating locally produced foods.
The published evaluation of Play Every Day showed Alaska parents are saying they’re changing drinks served to their young kids. Alaska’s health department is also seeing that supported through the ongoing statewide CUBS survey of Alaska mothers. The percentage of Alaska 3-year-olds who did not drink any sugary drinks during a day increased from 57% in 2008 to 69% in 2018.
The Alaska Department of Health also published earlier success in running Play Every Day messages to reduce sugary drink consumption among older children. Between 2014 and 2016, the percentage of parents in Alaska’s largest communities who reported serving sugary drinks to their school-age children in the past week significantly decreased during a time when Play Every Day was continuously sharing its health-focused messages statewide.
Play Every Day messages help families pick healthier drinks
Families, pediatricians, dentists, teachers, child care providers and more can share Play Every Day messages in many ways: