Want Teens to Drink Less Soda? Try Using Peer Pressure

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When we hear a story about “peer pressure,” we often think of otherwise respectful and honest teens getting wrapped up in all sorts of trouble. But what if teens could use peer pressure as a positive? A recent study in Ohio did just that, finding that the soda-drinking habits of teens changed drastically when encouraged by their peers.

It’s not news that soda is a major nutritional no-no (if you need proof, check out the Soda Shock article in the January 2014 issue of Choices), but 80 percent of American young adults are still drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day. In Appalachian Ohio, those numbers are even more terrifying, with 92 percent of participating teens preferring soft drinks to healthier beverages. In an attempt to study and hopefully diminish the high prevalence of Type-2 Diabetes in the area, University of Ohio researcher Laureen Smith set out to find a way to deliver the bitter truth to the sugar-high schools in the area.

By enlisting groups of students join the campaign’s teen advisory councils, two local high schools embarked on a 30-day “Sodabriety” challenge. Over the course of the study, the student-run teams blasted sugar facts over the loudspeaker during the morning announcements, gave away reusable water bottles with the slogan “what’s in your cup?”, and planned school assemblies to discuss the dangers of drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages.

It’s important to note that throughout the study, access to sugary beverages wasn’t restricted in any way, and students were never asked to cut the sweet stuff entirely. The student-led committees only encouraged their classmates to try to cut down on their soda, flavored milk, and energy drink intake. But amazingly, over the course of the 30-day study, participating students not only cut their sugary drink consumption by over 30 percent, but students began drinking 30 percent more water every day. Where one unhealthy habit decreased, an important habit was gained.

We already know that teens listen to their friends first, but as the Sodabriety challenge shows us, that doesn’t have to be a negative. “We tend to think first of risky behaviors when we study adolescents, but they do positive things, too,” Smith said of the study. “With the right guidance and support, they are powerful influencers. We might as well use peer pressure to our advantage.”

Would you bring the Sodabriety challenge to your teen’s school? How else can we get teens to influence their peers for the better? Let us know your ideas in the comments below!