CHAMPAIGN — Could you give up sugary drinks for a day and then ease them out of your life?
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District challenged its staff to drink nothing but milk and water Thursday, and is encouraging everybody else to cut back on sugar soda, fruit juices and other sugary beverages that can contribute to obesity and obesity-related diseases when they're guzzled in quantity.
"We are trying to plug that with our messaging and our Facebook, but thought that we should probably set the example," said Nikki Hillier, the health district's program coordinator.
Sugary beverages account for 46 percent of the added sugars in the American diet, according to the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, which is running a "Rethink Your Drink" campaign that runs through Feb. 13.
The campaign urges substituting water and low-fat or skim milk for sugary drinks and reading food labels to be aware of hidden sugars and portion sizes.
The average 20-ounce soda is two-and-a-half portions and contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar, according to the Illinois Public Health Institute.
But even small amounts of sugary beverages can raise health risks.
Downing one sugar-sweetened beverage ups the risk of becoming overweight by 27 percent, and a child's risk of obesity rises 60 percent with every additional serving of soda per day, the public health institute says. Drinking one to two sugar beverages a day raises the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26 percent.
Hillier said the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District began trying to shift its focus toward more healthful employee eating during the work day when it got rid of its vending machines and started stocking its own "wellness cove" with fruits, vegetables, frozen breakfast foods, Greek yogurt and string cheeses that employees can buy.
Though, she adds, "we did bring back Diet Coke, as kind of a mental health thing."
The temptation of Diet Coke was removed for the Thursday challenge, Hillier said. Employees who participated will each get a $1 "cove buck" to spend in the wellness cove.
Must you give up all beverages but milk and water? Remember the old advice, Hillier says — everything in moderation. But also keep in mind caffeinated beverages of any kind don't really hydrate you, and fruit juice isn't a substitute for a piece of fruit.
"Even if it's 100 percent juice, if they're drinking their calories instead of eating their calories, it doesn't have the fiber that fruit that would give them," she said.
Two tips from the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity:
DO: Drink beverages that contain less than 5 grams (1.25 teaspoons) of sugar per 12 ounces.
DON'T: Drink those with 12 grams (three teaspoons) or more per 12 ounces.