Los Angeles County health officials Wednesday introduced a campaign aimed at pushing parents to drop sugary drinks, a leading cause of childhood obesity, from family snacks and mealtimes.

Although childhood obesity rates are actually down in California, many young children remain overweight and at severe risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, organizers said.

The new multilingual campaign, titled Water: The Healthiest Choice, comes just days after the release of a national study finding that despite a drop in the obesity rate, California still leads the country in obesity among children between the ages of 2 and 4. It provides parents with simple, straightforward information about soda, sports and juice drinks.

Billboards and bus shelters will carry the message, which will also play on radio and online.

“The evidence is clear: preventing obesity in children begins with promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity at the earliest stages of their lives,” said Dr. Paul Simon, who heads the county Public Health Department’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury. “The choice is simple: put down the sugary drinks and choose water instead.”

Simon said sugary drinks can represent up to 40 percent of a child’s total caloric intake.

“It’s time to get into the habit of drinking more water,” he said.

Parents looking for ways to make water more appealing to kids can find tips at www.ChooseHealthLA.com.

Health officials also cautioned parents not to substitute juice, which is often a less-than-healthy alternative because of added sugar. Simon suggested reaching for whole fruit or adding cut fruit to a glass of water.

“With whole fruits, you are giving children the fiber they need in their diet that you can’t get through juice,” Simon said.

The media campaign is funded through a grant from First 5 LA.

—City News Service

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