Boston launching media blitz against sugary drinks

Hoping to blunt the pervasive reach of sugary drinks, Boston officials today unveiled a public awareness campaign that urges residents to reduce their consumption of the beverages , which public health specialists link to rising obesity rates and higher health care costs.

The campaign, which will include a media blitz of the city, comes a month before an executive order by Mayor Thomas M. Menino takes effect, phasing out the sale, advertising, and promotion of sugar-sweetened beverages in all municipal buildings.

“We are in the midst of a health crisis in the city of Boston,’’ Menino said at a City Hall press conference this morning. “Forty percent of the kids in Boston Public Schools are overweight or obese.’’

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The $1 million federally-funded campaign will blanket Boston with TV, radio, MBTA, web, print, and billboard advertisements . The program will particularly target black and Latino neighborhoods, including Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, where obesity rates are much higher, officials said. Some of the ads will be in Spanish and air on urban hip hop radio and TV stations. They will run for about six weeks.

About 63 percent of black and 51 percent of Latino adults in Boston are considered overweight or obese, compared with 49 percent of white adults, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.

The media campaign is aimed at two age groups — parents who do the bulk of the household grocery shopping, and teens and young adults who consume more soda, energy drinks, and other sugary beverages than any other age group, according to a US government nutrition study.

The ads aimed at parents feature children in various activities, roller blading with helmet and protective pads, or strapped into a car seat. Near them is a stash of empty cola and other sweetened drink bottles.

“You do so much to protect them. But, maybe, you never realized how much these could hurt them,’’ the ad states. “After all, your kids are sweet enough already.’’

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The other ads, dubbed “Don’t get smacked by Fat’’ and developed by a panel of teens who worked with the Boston Public Health Commission, show young adults sipping sugary drinks while a neon yellow glob of fat is soaring through the air and about to hit them.

“Calories from sugary drinks can cause obesity and Type 2 diabetes,’’ the ads state.

Brandon DaGraca, a 16-year-old Boston Arts Academy junior and member of the youth council working with health officials on the anti-sugar campaign, said many young people don‘t understand how insidious sugar is.

“A lot of teens in Boston aren’t taught the important stuff,’’ DaGraca said. “What I hear from my peers is, ‘You eat too much, you gain weight.’ But it can also be sugar-sweetened beverages.’’

A typical 20-ounce soda contains about 16 teaspoons of sugar and 250 calories, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.

To burn off just these calories, the average adult would have to walk at a brisk pace for 45 minutes, the commission’s data show.

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