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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Guest: How UC Davis can reduce the risk of diabetes on campus

UC Davis should lead by example of UCSF, UCLA and reduce sale of sugary drinks while providing healthier alternatives 

One in three Americans will get diabetes in their lifetimes, and one in four young adults are already prediabetic. Drinking just one to two sugary drinks a day increases the risk of developing diabetes by 26%. Not only is type 2 diabetes a serious condition itself, but it’s also a risk factor for severe illness from COVID-19. Now more than ever, there is a lot that universities can and should do to mitigate the growing diabetes epidemic, and the UCs are taking the lead. 

A recent study done at UCSF was published in the prestigious journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The study found that eliminating the sale of sugary drinks lowered the consumption of these products by nearly 50% and reduced waist circumferences in employees within 10 months. Half the participants also engaged in a motivational intervention to increase health knowledge, and this intervention led to additional health improvements. Although UCSF no longer sells sugary drinks, staff, students and visitors can still bring in those beverages from home or purchase a wide variety of them on campus, such as fruit and vegetable juices, teas and coffees, smoothies, sparkling waters and diet sodas. 

Another UC trailblazer is UCLA. Nutritious food plays a central role in its mission to provide healthy choices to its community. The initiative began with dining commons and vending machines. Now, sugary drinks make up 22% of all available beverages on campus. 

In the most popular dining hall, UCLA replaced sugary drinks with a variety of appealing, healthier options — from sparkling and fruit-infused waters to teas and coffees to fruit and vegetable juices. It still remains the most popular dining common on campus. 

In vending machines, they made minimally sweetened and unsweetened drinks cheaper than sugar-sweetened drinks. Speaking as a student, cost is a barrier to healthy choices. UCLA is tackling this issue by making healthier choices more financially accessible. By boosting health and nutrition knowledge through signage and awareness campaigns, healthy retail environments can be even more effective.

“I’d love to see another UC try it and see what the results [are],” said Pete Angelis, the assistant vice chancellor of Housing and Hospitality at UCLA.

I think UC Davis is up for the challenge.

UC Davis has taken important measures to prioritize the health of its community, including the Nourish Program launched across campus as a local implementation of the Healthy Campus Network. Nourish labels identify and promote nutrient-dense foods, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and items containing minimal or no added sugars, sodium and saturated fats. Nourish-recommended foods and beverages are labeled with an orange slice logo in the CoHo, markets, dining commons and vending machines. Beverages that meet Nourish standards include unsweetened still and sparkling waters, 100% coffees and teas, 100% fruit and vegetable juices (low sodium) and unflavored dairy and non-dairy milk. UC Davis dining has also expanded sparkling water options in dining halls. Furthermore, UC Davis is participating in the UC-wide Healthy Beverage Initiative, which is expanding water stations on campus and using a student-designed campaign to promote the new water stations. 

“We are excited to install these water stations in areas that we found to be ‘water deserts’ on the Davis and Sacramento campuses and hope that it will encourage everyone to drink the healthiest, free-of-cost resource we have to offer — water,” said Stacey Brezing, the director of Staff and Faculty Health and Well Being at UC Davis, in an email. 

UC Davis, UCLA and the other eight UCs have also prioritized the health of staff by offering the Diabetes Prevention Program, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The year-long program provides participants with education, encouragement and counseling to prevent type 2 diabetes.

“If we can reduce the number of [at-diabetic-risk] team members in half, then we’re gonna do that,” Angelis said.

The UC system is in good company. Like UCSF, the University of Michigan, Baylor University and Cleveland Clinic have eliminated the sale of sugary beverages. Like UCLA, institutions such as Cornell and Stanford have removed sugary drinks from their dining halls and replaced them with a variety of other options.

UC Davis has great examples to build on, and could create an even better initiative to truly make UC Davis “the healthiest place to work, learn, and live.” 

Written by: Laurel Denyer 

Laurel Denyer is a third-year undergraduate at UC Davis majoring in Global Disease Biology. Denyer is also a research assistant in a public health lab on campus, where she focuses on sugar-sweetened beverages and healthy retail. 

To submit a guest opinion, please email opinion@theaggie.org


  1. “Drinking just one to two sugary drinks a day increases the risk of developing diabetes by 26%” are the author’s exact words. She is not arguing that sugar causes diabetes, just that there is associated risk.
    Considering America is experiencing increased levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease, I think any movement towards establishing a healthier community would be beneficial.

  2. Melana,

    You are correct in saying that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. However the manner in which you addressed Dunlop’s opinion was more aggressive and attacking likely fueled by your emotions rather than for the sole purpose of educating and facilitating a discussion.

    I’m not sure if your addressing of Dunlop’s comment was done in a professional manner since I believe you may be related to the article’s author. It’s important for any writer of a credible news outlet to maintain one’s journalistic integrity. Having a family member, who can’t remain unbiased, comment without acknowledging their already pre-existing biases, undermines the idea of real journalistic integrity.

    I am not commenting on whether or not I agree with Dunlop’s opinions, I’m just commenting on how I believe it’s not appropriate for you to respond in such a way.

  3. Dunlop: You are right on one thing, and that is that Type 1 diabetes is not related to diet or lifestyle, but this is where your credibility ends.

    I like to know more about sources, so I looked at that which you cited. Diabetes UK is the operating name of the British Diabetic Association, publicly listed as a charity organization. Diabetes UK has a laundry list of pharmaceutical sponsors, including one Abbot Nutrition, a subsidiary of pharma giant Abbott Laboratories. Abbott is one of the world’s largest infant formula producers. It manufactures an infant formula (Similac) containing cane sugar and sucrose — additives banned from formulas in Europe and known to be unsuitable for newborns. Abbott has marketing strategies so aggressive that they breach World Health Organization legislation on the marketing of baby formulas. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4362817/) I do not doubt that there is serious financial motive behind Diabetes UK — and in turn, the British Diabetic Association — promoting the inane idea that sugar is not a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.

    This breach in your sound fact-finding aside, it doesn’t at all follow that the author is suggesting that ONLY sugary drinks be removed from diets to mitigate this health epidemic. Ms. Denyer mentions the Diabetes Prevention Program at many UCs which provides for education, counseling, and encouragement for those needing help managing and/or avoiding the long-term effects of a diabetes diagnosis. This is a whole health approach to a worldwide epidemic.

    Of course, this is the opinion page. You are entitled to your opinion that sugary drinks be available to you. The author makes it clear: UCLA had “your options” available, barring ONE dining hall. And “your options” were not removed completely from vending machines; instead, naturally sweetened beverages and water were available at a lower price point. Incentivizing healthier choices is not “taking away your options,” but rather making someone think twice before purchase and consider what they may do later to offset the choice, which feeds right into your “need to get overweight people to lower their caloric intake.” If they are being educated and counseled, they just might begin to do exactly what you so blatantly opine that they “need to” do.

  4. There is literally no research whatsoever indicating that sugar, or sugary drinks in particular, cause diabetes. To quote the British Diabetic Association,

    “No amount of sugar in your diet – or anything in your lifestyle – has caused or can cause you to get Type 1 diabetes.”
    “we know sugar doesn’t directly cause Type 2 diabetes”

    We should not base policy on faddish pseudoscience by people who are foolish enough to confuse correlation with causation. If you want to fight diabetes, you need to get overweight people to lower their caloric intake. Cutting sugar happens to be one way of doing that, but is hardly the only way, and plenty of fit people consume sugary drinks. Don’t take away my options because other people make poor decisions. The problem is that telling overweight to lose weight — promoting a healthy lifestyle and discouraging an unhealthy lifestyle — is now considered offensive and politically incorrect because the worst is insane.


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