One of the leading underlying causes of premature death in the U.S. is an unhealthy diet, which most often manifests itself in the form of obesity. In New Jersey, over 25% of residents are obese, and an additional 36% are overweight.  Similarly, about 25% of high school students are either obese or overweight. Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the single largest source of added sugars in the American diet. In response to this, The Public Good Projects has collaborated with the Nicholson Foundation to create and implement a campaign focused on reducing consumption of SSBs and increasing water consumption among those at highest risk for negative health consequences. Year 1 of the campaign focused on pairing digital health communication materials with an on-the-ground presence, with a Community Campaign Manager (CCM) bridging the local communities with these digital efforts. Year 2 of the campaign built upon the successes from Year 1 and expanded efforts to include a focus on partnering with local businesses and organizations to change policies related to sugary drink consumption within the workplace. To examine the impact of the campaigns, PGP employs multiple evaluation methodologies, including online evaluation surveys, analysis of beverage sales, and examination of public discourse around SSBs.
PGP conducted three cross-sectional evaluation surveys to compare trends and changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors (KABs) related to SSB consumption from a baseline pre-implementation, Year 1 follow-up, and a Year 2 follow-up. Results from the evaluation survey show positive shifts in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors toward sugary drinks. This includes trends toward increased water consumption, decreases in purchasing SSBs, decreases in social acceptability of allowing children to drink SSBs, improved self-efficacy and intentions to consume fewer sugary drinks, and significant positive shifts in knowledge of the health effects of SSB consumption.
Sales data show reductions in purchases of some types of sugary drinks, with some nuances to keep in mind. Data were examined nationally, in New Jersey, and in Passaic County specifically. Purchases of bottled water from 2018-2019 showed promising results, particularly at the state level, which showed a 2.5% increase the second year. Fruit drink mixes also showed promising patterns, with decreases across both New Jersey and Passaic County specifically. Patterns observed in Passaic County and New Jersey diverged from those nationally, suggesting specific influences in the state that were not mirrored nationally.
Media monitoring showed increases in general conversation as well as around specific themes related to campaign content. Conversation around sugary drinks in New Jersey showed substantial increases from baseline compared to Year 1 and 2 follow-ups. Conversation about specific themes also showed important shifts during the campaign period – particularly around choosing water over sugary drinks. References in this theme showed a steady increase in conversation throughout the entire period.
-  “BRFSS Prevalence & Trends Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Sept. 2017, www.cdc.gov/brfss/brfssprevalence/.
-  “New Jersey Student Health Survey, 2011.” Rutgers University Bloustein Center for Survey Research for the New Jersey Department of Education, 2012, http://www.state.nj.us/education/students/yrbs/2011/full.pdf
Results from this evaluation highlight the promising shifts in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors around consumption and purchasing of sugary drinks. Through an examination of evaluation survey results, purchasing patterns, and media monitoring, we feel that PGP’s methodology of pairing highly tailored and targeted digital content within a collective impact model has positively impacted communities across New Jersey and holds promise in reducing SSB consumption at a large scale.