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Why a Healthy Beverage Initiative?

Phasing out the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages, and promoting healthier choices as part of an overall healthy food environment strategy is a sensible and impactful initiative, that has been effective on campuses and in institutions worldwide. In fact, UBC consulted with several institutions across the globe that have implemented their own healthy beverage initiative. 

Implementing a healthy beverage initiative at UBC is complex; with a varied food and beverage landscape, made up of many different types of stakeholders, it was important that the HBI was supported across our campuses, and aligned with UBC's approach to embedding and operationalizing wellbeing in all aspects of campus life, as outlined in the Okanagan Charter calls to action.

What's a sugar-sweetened beverage?

Sugar-sweetened beverages are defined as pre-packaged beverages that include any form of sugar added during the manufacturing process. This includes more obvious choices such as soda and lemonade, but also beverages that are often marketed as "healthier" such as energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (with less than 100% fruit juice).

UBC is using a three-tiered categorization for various types of beverages on our campuses. 

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The not-so-sweet stats about sugar-sweetened beverages 

Sugar is everywhere— from cookies and packaged snacks to hiding in everything from yogurt, to bread, to baby food. That sweet stuff is seriously addictive, and we've become so accustomed to having it added to our food, that we may not even notice it at times. So why tackle sugar-sweetened beverages? Why not cut the candy from vending machines, or muffins from our morning routine? 

Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB's) are the single-largest contributor of added sugar in the diet
  • They also offer virtually zero nutritional benefits. And it's easy to consume excess sugar in this form without realizing it; grabbing a coffee with sugar in the morning, and lemonade at lunch, or an afternoon soda can quickly add up to dozens of teaspoons of added sweetener.  A single soda can contain up to 40 grams of sugar— exceeding the World Health Organization's recommendation to reduce free sugars to less than 10% of total daily energy. Individuals who drink SSB's also tend to not feel as full as they do if they eat the same number of calories from solid food. 
Excess consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked with a host of health and wellbeing implications,
  •  These include increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dental issues. 
  • Over the next 25 years, it is estimated that sugar-sweetened beverages will be responsible for: *
    • 1 million+ Canadians being overweight, 3 million + being obese 
    • Almost 1 million cases of type 2 diabetes
    • 300,000 Canadians with ischemic heart disease
    • 100,000 cases of cancer
    • Almost 40,000 strokes 
    • Estimated 50,657,213,642 in direct health care costs

Young Canadians consume more sugar sweetened beverages 
  • While HBI takes a whole-campus approach to support health and wellbeing, we know that young adults in Canada ages 19-30 consume an average of 504 ml of SSB's every day, while youth (9-18) consume an average of 578 ml. *
    • This is higher than the daily population average of 334ml. These numbers are self-reported, which tend to be lower than reality. 
  • Post-secondary years are a crucial time for developing life-long, healthy habits. By supporting our students' health and wellbeing now, we can help set them up for success in the future. 


 ​*Taken from Heart and Stroke Foundation HEALTH AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF SUGARY DRINKS IN CANADA Research summary

Getting started with a Healthy Beverage Initiative 

Considering the alarming health and economic burden caused by drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, UBC Wellbeing and the Food and Nutrition Working Group collaborated with students, staff, and faculty stakeholders, to explore ways to better promote drinking water and reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption at UBC. 

UBC also looked to institutions like the University of Michigan, and the University of San Francisco, who have both implemented healthy beverage initiatives on their campuses, for knowledge sharing and background on where to start. 

The Healthy Beverage Initiative at UBC is a complex undertaking with both fiscal and operational considerations. Community input was crucial in determining the best approach to this initiative; UBC Wellbeing led a number of engagement sessions and surveyed faculty, staff and students to ensure that a range of perspectives and interests were represented. All major food-provider stakeholders at UBC — Student Housing and Hospitality Services, Athletics & Recreation, UBC Okanagan Food Services, and AMS — have informed and championed this initiative from the beginning. Several key actions emerged from campus-wide engagement sessions and were approved by UBC Executive and the UBC Wellbeing Steering Committee in summer 2018:

Action 1: Encourage tap water consumption

Action 2: Promote healthier beverages choices in our community

Action 3: Modify our environment to support healthier beverage consumption

UBC's next steps include creating a vendor-certification program, which will support food and beverage providers in reducing or eliminating sugar sweetened beverages from their outlets. The program will be voluntary, but outlets that comply will be awarded HBI designation at UBC. Student-led research is informing this process, through programs such as Sustainability Scholars and SEEDS. 

For more background on HBI: 

HBI Backgrounder

For more on setting up an HBI designation program: 

"Implementation of a Healthy Beverage Designation at UBC" 

Author: Balanding Manneh, 2020

Sustainability Scholar Project 


We all have a hand in shaping campus environments that support health, wellbeing, and sustainability. By championing wellbeing, we can build stronger and more inclusive communities at UBC and beyond.