Sugary Drink Sales Drop After Multifaceted Campaign

NEW ORLEANS — After a multifaceted campaign that included policy changes and community education efforts, sugary drink sales decreased and bottled water sales increased in one Maryland county, researchers reported at the 2016 American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions.1

In 2013, the Horizon Foundation, along with several community partners, initiated a multiyear public health campaign aimed at reducing the consumption of sugary sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and flavored water or teas in Howard County, Maryland.

The campaign included policy measures such as strengthening the wellness policy at the local school system  to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages in student-accessible vending machines and at school-day functions; enacting a 2014 state law barring licensed childcare centers from serving sugary drinks to children; enacting a 2015 local law allowing greater access to healthier food and drink on local government property and in children’s programming; and convincing almost 50 local community organizations through outreach and education to improve food and drink choices offered at meetings and via vending machines.2

Community education efforts included social marketing through television ads, social media, and online ad buys, direct consumer education, and healthcare professional training designed to improve patient counseling on the dangers of sugary drinks and the diagnosis and treatment of childhood obesity.2

The researchers then compared baseline sales from 2012 with those made during 3 years after the intervention (2013-2015).1,2 Fifty-two weeks of baseline sales for top brands in each beverage category were tracked in 15 supermarkets in Howard County.1 Seventeen control stores in southeastern Pennsylvania were identified by matching weekly beverage volume sales at baseline.1

In addition, the researchers used difference-in-difference regression analyses, controlling for average price, competitor’s price, package size, weekly local temperature, and manufacturer, to compare weekly volume sales in each beverage type between intervention and control stores.1

After the intervention, the researchers found that sales of sugary soda decreased by almost 20% by volume in Howard County while remaining stable in control stores (P <.001).1 Additionally, sales of fruit-flavored beverages with added sugars decreased by 15%, and sales of 100% juice decreased by 15% in 2015 vs 2012.1

Results also showed an increase in bottled water (P <.0001) and flavored water sales (P <.001).1 There appeared to be no effect on sports drink sales.

The researchers noted that sales data from non-supermarket vendors like convenience stories were not included in the study.2 They also only monitored top-selling brands sold as opposed to all brands sold..2

“This study shows that a public health campaign combining community­wide education, policy changes and culture-shifting efforts can significantly reduce sugary drink sales,” study researcher Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, said in a press release.2 “Through complementary strategies from advocating for changes to child care nutrition standards to creating TV ads, ‘Howard County Unsweetened’ made a concerted effort to encourage families to switch their drinks.”

Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.


  1. Schwartz MB, Li X, Harris J, et al. Poster S262. Retail soda purchases decrease after two years of a community campaign promoting better beverage choices. Presented at: the 2016 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. November 12-16, 2016; New Orleans, LA.
  2. Sugary drink sales drop nearly 20 percent after multi­faceted campaign [press release]. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Newsroom; November 13, 2016.