An effective strategy to convince mothers to switch young children from drinking sweetened soda to water was presented in a study conducted in four American Indian communities in the Pacific Northwest. It shows that eliminating these sugary drinks from the diets of the youngest members of the tribe significantly decreased tooth decay.
The results of the dental arm of "The Toddler Overweight and Tooth Decay Prevention Study" (TOTS), which targeted American Indians from birth to 30 months of age, appear in the current issue (Volume 20, Number 4) of the peer reviewed journal Ethnicity & Disease
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.
To implement TOTS the researchers worked closely with tribal councils. 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.