About the Healthy Beverage Initiative at the UC and UCSB

On this page of the UCSB Healthy Beverage Initiative Research Group (HBIRG) website, we describe the origin of the UCSB HBI, and the beverage and food environments on our campuses, the values of the UCSB HBIRG, and the goals for action these lead to.

Sugar Science, Healthy Beverage Initiative

The UC Healthy Beverage Initiative Background

The creation of the UC system-wide Healthy Beverage Initiative (HBI) was inspired by the UCSF success, and by the 2014 UC ban on tobacco. It was launched in 2019 as a project of the UC Healthy Campus Network (HCN), with funding from UC Systemwide Human Resources (through the Office of the President). Human Resources funding was motivated by a desire to reverse rising health insurance costs, due in large part to non communicable diseases like diabetes, heart and liver disease, cancer, and tooth decay, associated with consumption of SSBs.

Every one of the 10 UC campuses has their own HBI, each with their own unique approach to achieving common goals. As one of California’s largest employers, the University of California is well poised to implement its own evidence-based public health measures, such as a system-wide HBI, to help prevent obesity and related cardiometabolic diseases amongst employees, students, patients and visitors alike.

The HBI is now combined with the University of California Research Consortium on Healthy Beverages (UCRCHB), and part of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI). NPI’s focus is supporting legislative efforts to pass a state wide excise tax on SSBs with the tax used to support communities most impacted by SSBs. Currently, the SSB tax revenue is used to support vulnerable communities in San Francisco and Black communities in Berkeley. The Consortium is collaborating with the Praxis Project in outreach to communities.


The UCSF SSB Sales Ban

In 2015, faculty at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) convinced administrators that because UCSF researchers had demonstrated the toxic health effects of SSBs, that it was unethical for UCSF to profit from SSB sales. As a result, UCSF implemented a Healthy Beverage Initiative which involved an organized phase-out of SSBs from all UCSF campus eateries and vending machines (including sodas, energy and sports drinks, sweetened coffees and teas). SSB sales on campus were ended in 2015.


Health data were collected before and 10 months after the ban for a subset of UCSF employees who drank the most SSBs before the sales ban. Researchers found significant reductions in measures associated with risk of diabetes: waist circumference, and SSB intake. Among these employees, some randomly assigned to a treatment group received a brief motivational intervention including a graphic description of amount of sugar ingested daily, help with setting goals, and educational materials (Epel et al., 2020). The treatment group reduced their sugar sweetened beverage intake three times more than the randomly assigned control group.


The UC HBI will consider environmental as well as health benefits of reducing SSBs 

While sugar, the main key SSB ingredient, has relatively low GHGE in most LCAs, other SSB ingredients, especially cow milk, but also juice and plant milks, have higher impacts. In addition, the SSB containers also have environmental impacts. So, switching from SSBs to similar beverages without sugar does little to reduce the direct environmental impact of beverages. Even switching to bottled water retains the impact of the containers. This is why the UC HBI is focusing on switching from SSBs to tap water. While tap water also has environmental impacts, they are much less than those of SSBs or other commercial beverages. In addition the UC has recently revised its sustainability policy to phase out single use plastics. Beverage and SSB companies are responding to the pressure to reduce single use plastic by switching to other materials, but these all have environmental impacts, including bioplastic, and some are greater than plastic.  

In addition, added sugar consumption is strongly linked to several non-communicable diseases, including Type 2 Diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, and the resources needed to care for these diseases also have large environmental impacts. Therefore. there will also be indirect environmental benefits from reducing SSB consumption.

UCSB Healthy Beverage Initiative

The Healthy Beverage Initiative (HBI) of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) launched in Fall 2019. UCSB’s HBI consists of two group: the Research Group, organized by David A. Cleveland, Research Professor in the Environmental Studies Program and the Department of Geography, and the Implementation Group, organized by Katie Maynard , Sustainability Coordinator.

The Implementation Group has been surveying the SSB and tap water access locations on campus in preparation for the installation of additional water filling stations with HBI funding. They have not been able to complete the survey due to COVID-19.

UCSB Healthy Beverage Initiative Research Group

In the first phase of the HBI at UCSB, our HBI Research Group has been assessing the environmental benefits of reducing sugar sweetened beverages and bottled water on the UCSB campus, and replacing them with tap water. We began by working with Jill Horst and Danielle Sinclair in UCSB Dining to gather data on over 2000 beverage purchase during the 2018-2019 academic year. We are now analyzing these data in order to estimate the environmental impacts per liter of SSBs, other bottled non-SSB beverages and bottled water. We are doing the same for tap water from water filling stations. Our hypothesis is that tap water will have the lowest environmental impact both per liter, and when the same volume of tap water is compared with the volumes of the other three beverages sold during the 2018-2019 academic year. One key assumption is that documenting environmental benefits in addition the health benefits, will increase the motivation for change, as suggested by other research.

The second phase of HBI research is investigating the alternatives to current campus beverage policy, including the pouring rights contract UCSB has with Pepsi. Our Research Group is planning a campus discussion for fall quarter 2020 of the data and values related to the sale of beverages on campus. This includes health, social, community justice issues, and the broader impacts SSBs have on our communities and environments. We will also examine the often conflicting roles of beverages and food on campus as revenue generators and as promotors of human and environmental health and social justice.

The UCSB HBI Research Group is dedicated to understanding the campus community's relationship with SSBs, environmental impacts of our consumption, and social inequities that come along with unsustainable partnerships. We recognize these injustices and want to stimulate a conversation about our institution’s values to support and protect the physical, mental, and social health of all students and our environment. 


Our Values

We believe, based on empirical data and the following statements, that UCSB students, staff, faculty and administration need to have a discussion about potential conflicts regarding SSBs and how to resolve them.

1. We support the stated values of the UC and UCSB and aim to collaborate with policy makers to prioritize health, environmental, and social justice

2. We recognize the negative impacts of SSBs and the role of SSB companies in promoting their products

3. We value the perspectives of all and are open to questions, comments, or concerns 

Our Goals

1. Collaborate with community members and stakeholders to create a more healthy, environmentally conscious, and equitable campus

2. ​Reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and increase tap water consumption on campus through science-based social marketing approaches

3. Stimulate a conversation on campus about our beverage environment and our values on student health and the environment.