A Participatory Process to Engage Appalachian Youth in Reducing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption

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Children and adolescents consume excessive amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which are associated with adverse health outcomes. We describe a yearlong participatory research study to reduce SSBs in Central Appalachia, where excessive consumption is particularly prevalent. This study was conducted in partnership with a community advisory board in Southwest Virginia. Nine “youth ambassadors,” aged 10 to 13 years helped to systematically adapt SIPsmartER, an effective theorybased program for Appalachian adults, to be age and culturally appropriate and meet desired theoretical objectives. They then assisted with delivering the curriculum during a school-based feasibility study and led an advocacy event in their community. Satisfaction surveys and feedback sessions indicate that ambassadors found the program acceptable and important for other students. Validated surveys and focus groups suggested that theoretical objectives were met. Findings from these mixed methods sources informed curricular changes to further enhance acceptability and refine theoretical objectives. Participation in follow-up advocacy activities was tracked and described. Following the yearlong study, ambassadors reported having advocacy skills and motivation to continue reducing SSB intake in their community. Results, challenges, and lessons learned are presented to inform larger efforts to enhance acceptability of programs and inspire youth to take action to reduce health disparities in Appalachian communities.