INDIANAPOLIS — A study conducted in four American Indian communities in the Pacific Northwest presents an effective strategy to convince mothers to switch young children from drinking sweetened soda to water and shows that eliminating these sugary drinks from the diets of the youngest members of the tribe significantly decreased tooth decay.
The arrival of Europeans brought diseases such as measles, influenza and smallpox to the Americas.
Less well known is that Europeans also brought premature tooth decay to American Indians by introducing sugar and sugared foods.
Before the adoption of European food patterns, tooth decay was mostly a disease of old age in the New World.
With the addition of sugar to the American Indian diet, tooth decay became a disease that begins early in life. Today American Indians of all ages, many without adequate or timely access to dental care, are severely affected by tooth decay.
In three of the four communities, good tasting water was made readily available in water fountains and inexpensive, refillable gallon jugs.
Sugared soda was removed from tribal stores, and substitution of water for soda was actively encouraged through community outreach programs. Families received food counseling and breastfeeding support through tribal community health workers.
Because the researchers were looking at rate of decay within each community, whether or not the water was fluoridated did not impact the results of the study.
“These Pacific Northwest tribes consider water a sacred drink so tribal elders liked the idea of regaining American Indian values – it was a culturally attractive choice. Baby bottles and sippy-cups filled with sweetened drinks were not uncommon on the reservations prior to the study.
If water isn’t appealing and you don’t have a lot of money, and you don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables but soda is easy to find and cheap, you are likely to give your child soda and other junk food,” said Dr. Maupomé, who is a health services researcher.
Source: The IU School of Dentistry