'Rethink Your Drink' Campaign Helps Battle Hawaii Teen Obesity

All over the country, public officials are seeking ways to combat America’s obesity problem. Last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a controversial ban on large soda drinks, and last week, the FDA announced it will start requiring the food industry to phase out trans fats.

While effective, the strategy behind initiatives like these is to control, rather than educate, consumers by removing the temptation of unhealthy foods completely.

But a campaign out of Hawaii chose instead to empower the consumer -- in this case, the teenage consumer -- and has had inspiring results so far.

The campaign, "Rethink Your Drink," takes aim at sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks and fake “juices.” A 2012 survey of over 600 Hawaii teenagers revealed that 93 percent reported consuming sugary drinks every week, and 48 percent said they had a sugary drink every day. (Twenty-seven percent of teenagers and over half of adults in Hawaii are overweight or obese.)

The battle against sugary drinks is especially crucial as companies like Coca Cola have recently launched campaigns like “Cap the Tap,” which encourages restaurant managers to “turn off the tap” and get customers to order sodas instead.

Hawaii decided to battle marketing with marketing.

The “Rethink Your Drink” campaign, which ran from February to May, was largely designed by teenagers themselves. Between focus groups and appointed youth advisers it was apparently discovered that grossing kids out was the best way to reach them, and the ads live up to that research.

They depict soda and sport drink bottles filled with what appears to be lard. Two of the posters show teenagers drinking out of the bottles, fat pouring all over them.

“Don’t drink yourself fat,” the posters say, “Choose water instead.”

A public service announcement video, produced by high schoolers themselves, showed a similar scene. (See the photos and the video below).

The ads ran on television, radio, print and movie theater previews for four months, after which the DOH surveyed 600 students. More than half of those surveyed said they had noticed the ads, and 54 percent of the students who had seen the ads said they drank fewer sugary drinks as a result.

After such promising results, Hawaii has decided to relaunch the campaign with a goal of reaching 100 percent of Hawaii teens.

It will be a long road, however. In that same survey, Hawaii teens still reported drinking an average of 8.6 sugary drinks a week, amounting to roughly 1300 empty calories.

The battle to rethink our drinks is far from over.

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