A step toward a culture of health

Special to the Gazette

When was the last time you gave or received an ashtray as a gift? Forty or so years ago, an ashtray was a perfectly acceptable art project in school or at camp. Children made ashtrays as gifts for adults in their lives. They made them for Father's and Mother's day. If their parents didn't smoke, they had friends who did, and those friends would need an ashtray when they came over!

Smoking was so ingrained in American culture that it was not unusual to have cigarettes available for guests much the same way as we have snacks or a candy dish out on a table today. Imagine – with all we know about smoking causing cancer – giving cigarettes to friends. It sounds ludicrous.

In 20 years or so, I suspect we will look back incredulously at something we do today when we serve our friends, our family, and ourselves sugary drinks. We serve apple and grape juices and sweet tea. We sit at the coffee shop and drink a chai latte or a mocha Frappuccino with more sugar in it than a candy bar.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting one's daily added sugar intake. For women, AHA recommends women limit added sugar to six teaspoons, or to picture it another way, six standard-size sugar packets (for the whole day). Men can have a little more: nine teaspoons. That means, men can drink a whole can of Sprite, but only one can.

When you think about what we consume both in foods and in drinks versus how much our bodies can handle and remain healthy, we drown our bodies in sugary drinks. In fact, scientists estimate that nearly 184,000 people die each year as a direct result of the overconsumption of sugary drinks alone. And, the sugary drink doesn't include the piece of birthday cake or pie served with it!

We all have a part to play in making ours a healthier community. The Williamsburg Health Foundation has the vision of "Individuals making healthy choices in a community with health opportunity for all." It doesn't take a health professional to realize that the culture of sugar in our community and in our nation urgently needs to change.

Making a healthier community isn't just the work of medical professionals; it is all of our work. And, it is not only about what we do to care for ourselves but also what we do for others.

As one small step towards a healthier community, is there a way you can limit or perhaps eliminate those sugary drinks from your refrigerator, table or parties?

If you're not convinced things need to change, I recommend a movie called "Fed Up!" It's a documentary on sugar. I found this movie to be particularly clear and helpful, though its focus is more than just sugary drinks. If a documentary isn't your thing, there are many other resources on the dangers of sugary drinks. Just Google it.

We need to change the cultural norm of excess sugar the same way we changed the culture of cigarettes. We need to become a community and a country which has, as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says, "a culture of health." One thing you can do today to help improve the health of the entire community is by consuming, buying, providing, and serving fewer sugary drinks.

Brody is the Director of Community Resource Development and Engagement at the Williamsburg Health Foundation. She writes and speaks on how individuals in Greater Williamsburg can improve the health of the community. The Williamsburg Health Foundation has posters about exercise and sugary drinks available for free. For information, visit facebook/williamsburghealth.

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