Sugar In Our Diets: Problems and Solutions Around Unhealthy Eating Practices for Children [transcript] [audio]

Guests: Dr. Johanna Contreras & Akil Patterson

Presenter: Neal Howard

Guest Bio:

Dr. Johanna Contreras is a cardiologist originally from Colombia. She is the director of Heart Failure as well as the medical director of the Hispanic Heart Center at Mount Sinai hospital in NYC. She is a member of several Hispanic groups and is an active volunteer with the American Heart Association. Dr. Contreras is a member and chair for the Health Equity and Multicultural group and Northeast Health Equity consortium as well as the organizer of the AHA Latino Summit, a yearly program that focuses on education regarding Cardiovascular/Heart failure prevention and treatment of Latino patients. In these roles, she works to eliminate health disparities and improve access to advanced heart failure therapies.

Akil Patterson is the deputy director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, where he has helped build a coalition of nearly 300 community organizations advocating for policy change to ensure the children of the state can live long, healthy lives, free of chronic disease. Just last year, this statewide coalition successfully supported multiple jurisdictions in passing healthy vending legislation. Throughout his career, he has devoted himself to community organizing for causes that benefit community health and wellbeing.

Segment Overview: Dr. Johanna Contreras, Board Member, American Heart Association and Akil Patterson, Deputy Director, Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a partner organization, discuss the problem around unhealthy eating practices, offer some innovative solutions and reveal the results of a new study surrounding sugar in our diets.   


Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard. Glad that you could join us on the program today. Our guests are Dr. Johanna Contreras, Cardiologist and Volunteer with the American Heart Association and she’s joined by Akil Patterson, Deputy Director – Sugar Free Kids of Maryland and we’re here to talk about the 10th U.S. City, the verge of passing a law intended to curb how many sugary drinks kids are consuming. Welcome to Health Professional Radio both Dr. Contreras and Mr. Patterson. How are you both?

Akil Patterson: Doing well. Thank you.

Dr. Johanna Contreras: Well, thank you.

N: Akil, what is this latest city to consider these sugary drink legislation and what types of drinks are we talking about, all sugary drinks or just some?

A: Well, it was in Baltimore City. Baltimore City has actually passed the legislation and the legislation is “Kids’ Meal Bill”. It is a Kid Meal Bill that was focused on removing the fruit drinks, the lemonade, the sweet teas, the sports drinks and the sodas from the kids meal menu. And because we all know that the fruit drinks and the lemonades got everything but fruit or lemons in them. We know that there is a disparity there. So we’re changing that narrative in creating a culture of health in Baltimore City and in 10 other municipalities that would have that default option, the healthier beverage – the water, the milk, the unsweetened juice, the other beverages like sparkling water. So we’re really excited about this legislation passing. We know the mayor has been supportive of it in the past and we are confident that she’ll sign this bill in the wall on the next couple of days.

N: With everything that we’ve been hearing about childhood obesity, Dr. Contreras, there’s a new study that we’re going to discuss briefly. What about this study about sugary drinks and heart health, where was it conducted and how many were participating? What are some of the revelations?

C: This study says that of more than 17,000 people, basically what they found either the people that consume 24 ounces of sugary drinks, that is about the same thing as two cans of soda, a little bit more than one 10 oz of these poor drinks have doubled the risk of coronary heart disease. So in the size found that that was seen which they drink, they noticed, the same thing was seen with sugary meals but it doesn’t mean you have to avoid cupcakes and cookies, but I mean that probably sugary foods have all the nutrients instead of sugary drinks, they have water than sugar. So they finally linked it into the coronary heart disease.

N: So are these drinks being considered just from fast-food restaurants or all restaurants and the school systems as well there in the Baltimore area?

P: We’ve got to recognize this on a federal level, they have much more secure regulations than what we could produce in the school systems as of right now. So we’re adding it with the school systems. We are doing this for restaurant and food service industries in Baltimore City. So if you have a menu board or you have a restaurant menu, you’ve got to make sure the healthier option is going to be posted and listed above and it’s been a long process, to get to something, to get this going. We tried to introduce legislation in the past. We’ve worked one-on-one with the legislators. We made sure that they were informed and engaged and talked about this issue enough but they’ve trusted us at Sugar Free Kids Maryland to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for our community.

N: Dr. Contreras, is too much sugar too much across the board or is too much different for one child as opposed to another?

C: The American Heart Association have regulations and guidelines to gauge, to see how much sugar children can consume. But basically in a child less than two years of age, you know how any means to consume any sugary drink and it’s choosing between two years and 18 years. The recommendation is one sugary drink in a week. And in an adult, the recommendation would be no more than three sugary drinks a week. So you can imagine, the size found in children are consuming ten times the amount of sugar that is recommend in the American Heart Association.

N: Where does the responsibility lie to you? I mean we’ve passed this legislation there in the Baltimore area but what about the community and parents because sugar is the most addictive thing on the planet? How do we curb that in addition to this new legislation?

A: I think that there is the vote in this – there is the education and there is the legislation. So you have to have the vote and you have to put up the resources and the finances to educate the community on top of guys like me and people especially kids, if you go change the legislation. So there’s got to be the vote and if I had a magic wand and I’ll just wave it and fix problems, I would. And I think all of us would like, “Oh, we can fix that tomorrow.”. But we know the step process. So we’re going to start with these beverages. Tomorrow we’re going to start educating more communities. The next day, we’re going to look at kind of changing formulas. And I think let’s give the industry the respect. There are restaurants that are doing this. So it’s been a great move for them. But I think ultimately, it’s a community-wide effort from the person who sells these, the gas station to the person who is instructing our MPH directors. We got to make sure that we’re helping all those folks.

N: Have you been getting support for this legislation and this initiative across the board or maybe a little bit of resistance from those who stand to benefit greatly from increased sales or at least stable sales of sugary drinks to kids if not to adults as well?

A: Well obviously, you got a proponent and opponent in everything that you do. It doesn’t bother me that I get harassed or teased by some of these big corporate guys, but what are they doing with things, that’s for our communities? I am doing what is best for the community and if they have other ideas, other ways that they would like to see things we’ve done, we are more than happy to sit down with them and talk about it and really like come to a decision like what’s best. We do know that we’ve asked things before like not selling their sugary and sweetened beverage products. I get it, they said no. So, we got to keep working.

N: Dr. Contreras, what is the best way to get the conversation started with one of your patients about their kids and the sugary drink consumption. It’s kind of a touchy subject. It can be when you’re talking about people’s children.

C: So it’s important as I said to my patients, as parents, I know people are busy. I know they have very short time. So I tell them have water available. Boil some water put some fruits in the water, put in the refrigerator, freezer up. When the kids come home from the school or come home from playing outside in the ground, they know they can go into the freezer, find a bottled water with frozen strawberries, they love that and they can do things very slowly and integrate that part of the family, have milk. Teach them how to make juice, how to take in an orange and have a freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning, so they don’t need to buy a juice. So I think we have to show our kids what we are like and we have to change our process that our kids see what we are doing and they’re going to repeat to do what we are doing.

N: Now in wrapping up Akil, obviously you can’t go all across the nation with your initiative. You mentioned communities becoming involved, where can our listeners go and get some information about how they can get this initiative and possibly legislation passed in their communities if that should be what they desire.

A: Well, you can reach out to your local American Heart Association and get part of the voices for Healthy Kids Action Center or go to and get your resources and then you can always link up with us over at to have a conversation and again, we’re readily accessible. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. I’m definitely out there in the community. So if you want to get hold of us, we’re all there. So check out

N: Dr. Contreras Akil, thank you both for coming in today. It’s been a pleasure. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard. Transcripts and audio of the program are available at and also at You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, listen in and download at SoundCloud and be sure and visit our affiliates page at and Thanks both of you for joining us today.

A: Thank you. Cheers.

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