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'Sodabriety' Challenge Aims to Get Students to Stop Drinking Sugar

By Nicholas Rizzi | November 13, 2014 2:11pm
 Staten Island students have been challenged to cut back on sugary drinks for a month.
Staten Island students have been challenged to cut back on sugary drinks for a month.
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NEW DORP — Soda slurping students are being challenged to "kick the can."

Borough President James Oddo kicked off a "Sodabriety" challenge in four Staten Island high schools, asking students to quit sugary drinks for 30 days for the sake of their health.

"Nothing bad comes from drinking fewer sugary drinks," Oddo said at Staten Island Technical High School on Thursday.

"Depending on the data or research you want to read, some really bad things happen from drinking sugary drinks."

Students in Staten Island Technical High School, St. John Villa Academy, Staten Island Academy and Susan E. Wagner High School will be asked to keep a log of what they drink during the month and fill out surveys before and after the challenge, Oddo said.

Each school will create a Challenge Advisory Council, made up of 10 students and two teachers, to promote the campaign and get students to sign up to the challenge, said Dr. Ginny Mantello, the borough president's health advisor.

The challenge aims to get students to cut back on beverages like sweetened tea, soda, sports drinks and others with high sugar content which studies show lead to obesity and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease, Mantello said.

The only incentive is improved health.

On average, 80 percent of young people drink a sugary drink a day. The chance of obesity increases 1.6 times with each drink they consume, Mantello said.

"All of these reasons are compelling to get us to try to get our children and our schools to cut out sugar sweetened beverages," Mantello said.

While Staten Island is the city's smallest borough population-wise, it's also the unhealthiest.

More than 75 percent of residents are overweight or obese, 33 percent are more likely to have heart disease than elsewhere in the city and Staten Islanders are more likely to smoke, according to health department figures.

The numbers caused Oddo to launch a full-scale health initiative when he took office.

"If you look at the health numbers on Staten Island, sadly we lead the league in all the wrong categories," Oddo said.

Oddo modeled his latest push after a smaller scale study done at Ohio State University which showed teens have a better chance of convincing their peers to cut back on the drinks than adults. If successful, he plans to roll out the challenge to other schools in the borough.

Instead of mandating it or proposing legislation, which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried and failed to do, Oddo said his office is focused on increasing education on health issues.

"The notion that I'm going to mandate, I'm going to tell you what you can and can't have, makes people forget the message," Oddo said.

"We want to educate you, we want to encourage you and we want to inspire you."