Member Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Bass Works to Reduce Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption
OPS Member Jennifer Bass, MD, FAAP, has been involved with childhood obesity work since 1999, when she did clinical research on parental perceptions of child weight and ran a family weight management program in New York City. Today, she is a diabetes specialist at Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KPNW), caring for kids with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. A central aspect of her work has been to educate families about the sugar in fruit juice and sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Over the years, I’ve become most interested in prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles for all kids and families,” says Dr. Bass. “I love the simple message of 5-2-1-0.” This means five (5) fruits and vegetables; two (2) hours screen time or less; one (1) hour of physical activity; and zero (0) sugary drinks each day. In 2018, with support from KPNW leadership, Kaiser Center for Health Research, and a grant from the Garfield Foundation, Dr. Bass and colleagues started to focus on the “zero sugary drinks” aspect of this messaging.
The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage (SSB) Screening Project involves asking parents about juice and sugary drink intake in children under 5 years old at the point of care. “It is similar to hunger as a vital sign or exercise as a vital sign,” Dr. Bass says. The project follows AAP guidelines on sugary beverage consumption, including recommendations for no juice before 12 months of age.
As part of project work, the team created an EHR best practice alert that reminds medical assistants to ask about SSBs every six months. They also built an alert to notify providers if a child is over-consuming SSBs, along with written counseling tips that auto-populate in the after-visit summary. Additionally, Dr. Bass and colleagues produced family-facing educational materials on the sugar in juice and SSBs, including posters, fliers, and a three-minute video that can be shown in the exam room or at home.
“This project offers an opportunity to educate families and get them on the path to healthy habits early.” Dr. Bass says. “When we ask about juice and SSB intake in younger children, we have the opportunity to promote water drinking early. We have all seen the older child who won’t drink water because they prefer something sweet.”
Dr. Bass is an advisory committee member at Healthy Eating Research, where pediatric obesity experts are looking at how to implement SSB screening in medical records on a national level.