Study finds employees got fitter when their workplace banned soda

Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Joseph Lin / Ladders

Restrictions on sugary drinks have been implemented in different sectors of society.

It was once seen as the enemy to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who planned to limit the sale of large-sized surgery drinks in 2013. Bloomberg’s “soda ban” sought to eliminate the sales of beverages larger than 16 ounces, which would’ve targeted restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses. That drink ban fell when it was ruled illegal by New York’s highest court a year later in 2014.

Other places followed similar bans targeting sugary drinks like Baltimore, which banned soda and sugary drinks from restaurants’ kids’ menus in 2018. There have also been arguments for soda to be banned from schools due to its health impact, and now there’s an argument for it to be banned from the workplace.

When the University of California, San Francisco implemented a ban of sweet drinks from campus and medical facilities in 2015, researchers from the school ran a 10-month trial on the UCSF employees to see what impact a ban on sugar-sweetened drinks could have. Their findings, published in an issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, discovered the more than 200 participants had nearly cut their consumption level by 50% while losing significant belly fat in the process.

“This shows us that simply ending sales of sugary drinks in the workplace can have a meaningful effect on improving health in less than one year,” said lead author Elissa Epel, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the UCSF Aging, Metabolism, and Emotions Center, in a press release. “There is a well-known pathway from soda to disease. High sugar intake leads to abdominal fat and insulin resistance, which are known risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and even dementia. Recent studies have also linked sugar intake to early mortality.”

Researchers even had employees who said they were frequent consumers of sugary drinks, which is more than 12 ounces per day. When the trial started, participants averaged 35 ounces of sugared drinks daily but that number was drastically cut nearly in half to an average of 18 ounces daily.

In terms of pant size, participants lost an average of 2.1 centimeters from their waistlines, which amounts to just under an inch. Researchers said that almost 70% of participants had a decrease in waist size.

“This is a group of people who were at high risk for early onset of metabolic diseases and probably cancers as well,” Epel said. “They were drinking at least one sugared beverage a day. The participants who were overweight or obese already had very high levels of insulin resistance, in the pre-diabetic range, and the lean participants were also insulin resistant. Regardless of whether they were overweight or lean, most of the participants in the study tended to lose belly fat when they were offered a healthier beverage selection at work.”

The study was conducted by Elissa Epel, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, Alison Hartman, clinical research coordinator at AME Center Psychiatry, and Laurie Jacobs, Ph.D., research analyst at the University of California, San Francisco.