Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Who’d a-thunk it? Unintended consequences from a bottled water ban on a college campus?

From Mark Perry.
"Here’s the abstract of the research article “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” which was just published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (emphasis added):
Objectives. We investigated how the removal of bottled water along with a minimum healthy beverage requirement affected the purchasing behavior, healthiness of beverage choices, and consumption of calories and added sugars of university campus consumers.
Methods. With shipment data as a proxy, we estimated bottled beverage consumption over 3 consecutive semesters: baseline (spring 2012), when a 30% healthy beverage ratio was enacted (fall 2012), and when bottled water was removed (spring 2013) at the University of Vermont. We assessed changes in number and type of beverages and per capita calories, total sugars, and added sugars shipped.
Results. Per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed. Shipments of healthy beverages declined significantly, whereas shipments of less healthy beverages increased significantly. As bottled water sales dropped to zero, sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased.
Conclusions. The bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus, the ultimate goal of the ban. With the removal of bottled water, consumers increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages.
And here is part of the paper’s conclusion:
The number of bottles per capita shipped to the university campus did not change significantly between spring 2012 (baseline) and fall 2012, when the minimum healthy beverage requirement was put in place. However, between fall 2012 and spring 2013, when bottled water was banned, the per capita number of bottles shipped to campus increased significantly. Thus, the bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus, which was the ultimate goal of the ban. Furthermore, with the removal of bottled water, people in the university community increased their consumption of other, less healthy bottled beverages.
The significant decrease in the percentage of beverages shipped to campus that received a green (healthy) NEMS-V rating and the significant increase in beverages receiving a red (unhealthy) NEMS-V rating when bottled water was removed in spring 2013 as well as the increase in calories per bottle suggest that consumers not only continued to buy bottled beverages but also made less healthy beverage choices after the ban was in place.
The comparison of the percentage of bottles shipped by beverage category helps to explain the changes in NEMS-V grades. As the shipments of water decreased to zero, most of the beverage categories remained relatively constant as a percentage of total shipments. However, the percentage of sugar-free beverages and SSBs increased, closely matching the decrease in water. This, paired with the finding that overall shipments increased each semester, suggests that many consumers who previously drank bottled water replaced bottled water with sugar-free or sugar-sweetened bottled beverages.
Ideally, when bottled water was removed, those who previously purchased bottled water would have adjusted their behavior and started carrying reusable water bottles. The university made several efforts to encourage consumers to carry reusable beverage containers. Sixty-eight water fountains on campus were retrofitted with spouts to fill reusable bottles, educational campaigns were used to inform consumers about the changes in policy, and free reusable bottles and stickers promoting the use of reusable bottles were given out at campus events. Although these efforts may have influenced some consumers, the ban does not appear to have achieved its goal of decreasing the number of plastic bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus.
Because it appears that many bottled water consumers instead decided to purchase other bottled beverages, the best result, nutritionally, would have been for them to select calorie- and sugar-free options, such as seltzer, unsweetened tea, or diet soda. However, the data suggest that some consumers increased their consumption of calorically sweetened drinks, such as soda and sports drinks, which could add to their liquid calorie and added sugars consumption, thus increasing the risk of weight gain.
MP: Wow, nothing worked out as expected by the college administrators at the University of Vermont: a) the per capita number of bottles shipped to the University of Vermont increased significantly following the bottled water ban, and b) students, faculty and staff increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages following the bottled water ban. Another great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. And the bottled water ban was not costless – the university paid to modify 68 drinking fountains, they paid for a publicity campaign, and they paid for lots of “free” reusable water bottles; and what they got was more plastic bottles on campus of less healthy beverages!"

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