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Howard County's Unsweetened Campaign to Reduce Sugary Drinks

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- Sugary drinks are linked to obesity, diabetes and other health complications. That's why for 3 years, Howard County has been warning it's residents about the health hazard.

Residents in Howard County have been all but bombarded with the message that soda is bad for you and it appears they're listening. The public service announcement hit Howard County's TV screens. Part of a concerted effort started in 2012 to reduce sugary drink consumption and sales.

"We are making a difference of kids having a healthy weight and being able to live long, healthy lives," said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO of Horizon Foundation.

Highsmith Vernick, with the Horizon Foundation, is leading the Howard County Unsweetened Campaign, of public outreach and policy changes, like eliminating sugary drinks from public schools. A new study shows those efforts are working.

Sales of sugar-sweetened soda fell by almost 20 percent, fruit flavored drinks and 100 percent juice also dropping by 15 percent.

The results show that while consumption is dropping in Howard County, that's not the case for other locations.

"This study though was the first one that actually had objective sales data to be able to document the effect of the campaign," said Marlene B. Schwartz, ph.D researcher director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

Health experts say sugary drinks are the leading cause of empty calories. Like soda which can have around 250 calories, but no other nutritional value.

"Switching to healthier drinks will help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and lower your risk of developing life-threatening diseases," Rachel K. Johnson, ph.D., American Heart Association Spokesperson.

In response, the American Beverage Association said:

"America's beverage companies are committed to helping people cut the calories and sugar they get from beverages because we too want a healthy America."

Something both sides agree is critical.

The Horizon Foundation sees what's happening in Howard County as a success, to be replicated throughout Maryland. Doctors recommend water and low-fat milk as the healthiest beverage options.

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