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Oversweetened: The Truth About Sugary Drinks

Young people will understand that most popular beverages have a lot of added sugars, and if they drink them too often it can contribute to poor health.

Ages

9-14 Years Old

Duration

45 Minutes

What You Need

  • Five to six 20-ounce bottles of popular drinks emptied of their contents, but with labels still attached. (Such as Gatorade™, Vitamin Water™, Monster™, Mountain Dew™ Dr. Pepper™ or Starbucks Frappuccino™)
  • Granulated white table sugar (about ½ cup per drink container) or a box of sugar cubes (1 cube = 1 teaspoon sugar)
  • Measuring teaspoon or one per group
  • Small plastic funnel or one per group

Resources

Healthy Families Newsletter

English (pdf)

Spanish (pdf)

To find out how this lesson fits Physical Education and Health Education standards click here.

Lesson Overview

This lesson helps young people understand the sugar content of popular beverages such as sodas, energy or sports drinks. The youth will measure out granulated white sugar so they can picture the true amount of sugar in these drinks. Young people will think of more healthful options to quench their thirst throughout the day.

Instructor Notes

Before facilitating this lesson, you may want to review the following information about sugar-sweetened drinks. These facts can be shared with young people during your discussions.

  • Added sugars are sugars and syrups which are added to foods or beverages when they are made. Some foods have sugar that is naturally found in them, such as milk and fruit.
  • Americans are drinking more sweetened beverages than ever before. Some beverages have as many as 500 calories. This can be up to a quarter of a person’s calorie needs for the day just in added sugars.
  • Manufacturers will often target their advertising in hopes that if these drinks are purchased by consumers at an early age they will continue to be loyal buyers of that product into adulthood.
  • The body needs fluids to keep healthy; meeting those needs with sweetened beverages is not a good idea and can lead to unhealthful consequences.

Introduction

  1. Ask the youth about the types of beverages they and other young people typically drink. Common examples include sodas, sports drinks (Gatorade™, Powerade™, Vitamin Water™), energy drinks (Monster™, Red Bull™), and specialty coffee drinks (mochas, smoothies).
  2. Ask the youth if they have ever thought about how much sugar has been added to the beverages? (Added sugar refers to sugars and syrups which are added to foods or beverages when they are made and do not occur naturally in the drink.) Added sugars can also be found in many other foods including cereal, yogurt and granola bars. Read the Sneaky Sugars handout to learn more about sneaky sugars hidden in common foods and beverages.
  3. Ask the youth, why do you think it isn’t good to get too much added sugar? Show pictures or models as visual examples of health consequences as they share. Ask them for their ideas, but make sure they get this message:
    • Too much sugar is not good for your teeth—it can cause cavities.
    • Too much sugar is not good for your heart.
    • Too much added sugar each day can cause you to gain weight if your body doesn’t need those extra calories in one day.
    • We want most of what we eat and drink to be things that are good for our bodies and not fill up on things that are not healthful for us.

Activity

Explain to the youth that in this lesson we are going to see exactly how much added sugar is in some popular beverages. In order to do this we need to understand how to read and get the information we need off of the Nutrition Facts label for each type of drink. Show young people the Nutrition Facts Label handout by projecting the image on the board or printing it out. Point out a few significant statistics from the label (such as serving size, number of servings per container, total carbohydrate and sugars).

Tips to teach:

  • One teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories.
  • One teaspoon of sugar weighs 4 grams.
  1. Ask for volunteers to demonstrate for the large group or divide young people into small groups. The youth will figure out how many teaspoons of added sugar are in some popular drinks. Pass out an empty beverage container, granulated sugar, measuring teaspoon and funnel (or sugar cubes) to the volunteers or small groups.
  2. Have the youth calculate the added sugars by reading the information on the label.
    • Multiply the number of servings in the container by the number of grams per serving.
    • Divide that number by four to get the number of teaspoons of sugar per beverage. Young people may use calculators if they wish.
    • Use the funnel to carefully pour the granulated sugar into the empty bottle. Secure bottle top and pass around to emphasize the look, feel and weight of the amount of sugar dissolved in the typical soft drink.
  3. Ask young people to share their findings with the class. You can see that you can get a lot of added sugar just from drinking popular beverages!
    • How many teaspoons of added sugar do you think might be OK in a healthy daily food plan? Ask them to guess a number, just for fun. The answer is about 3 teaspoons each day.
    • How does that compare with the number you might usually have each day, especially if you are having a beverage with high amounts of added sugar? For most young people it will be a lot less than what they are having each day.
  4. Explain to the young people that our bodies need plenty of fluids, including water, every day but we need to find ways to make sure we’re not getting too much added sugar in our daily food plan. Ask the youth what options they might choose to drink instead of sugary drinks to stay hydrated and keep their bodies healthy? Wait for young people to answer but be sure they understand these items:
    • Remind young people that water is the best choice to drink throughout the day for thirst and staying hydrated. Water gets the job done. It quenches your thirst, keeps your skin healthy and glowing, and won’t cause tooth decay, chronic (long-lasting) diseases or gaining high amounts of weight.
    • Milk or a milk substitute is a healthful choice with meals and snacks because it’s full of nutrients your body needs.
    • 100% fruit juice doesn’t have any added sugars and can be healthful if you drink small amounts, no more than 4 to 6 ounces each day. (100% fruit juice doesn’t have all of the fiber and nutrients as whole fruit so it’s best to get most of your fruit servings by eating whole fruits instead).
    • What about diet pop and other diet drinks? Although they have no added sugars, they don’t have any nutrients that are good for our body either, so it is best to avoid filling up on diet drinks that do nothing to keep us healthy.

Conclusion

Challenge the youth to read the nutrition label of the next sweetened beverage they want to drink. How many calories and grams of sugar are in it? Remember how the white granulated sugar looks when it’s measured out, teaspoon by teaspoon. See if you can think of a more healthful option to quench your thirst!

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, so that families can talk about alternatives to sugary drinks from their pantries at home.

Additional Instructor Resources

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