#SugarAwarenessWeek: How can philanthropy address that other addictive white powder?

Written by: Lisa Ranghelli

Date: January 20, 2017

When I learned that this week is #SugarAwarenessWeek I immediately recalled The Bigger Picture, a collaboration of Youth Speaks and UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations that engages teens in storytelling to end Type 2 diabetes in young people. I saw a presentation about this groundbreaking effort at the 2016 Grantmakers in Health conference. Here are some of the startling facts shared by The Bigger Picture:

  • Fifty years ago, the average American consumed about 20 pounds of sugar and corn sweetener in a year. That number has risen to almost 130 pounds.
  • The food and beverage industry spends almost $12 billion a year ($1 million every hour of everyday) targeting young people to buy unhealthy food and drinks.
  • One in three youth overall are projected to contract Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime – unless we do something about it.

The Bigger Picture’s youth activist videographers offer dark humor and serious reflection around the role of sugar and unhealthy food in their homes and communities, and those who peddle such products. One that has stayed with me is Pushin’ Weight, which draws a bold analogy between sugar and other addictive powdery white substances.

As our society grapples with the crisis of addiction to illegal substances, we rarely acknowledge that legal “foods” containing unhealthy sugars and fats are being marketed heavily to young people every day.

Check out the some of the other imaginative videos, then see the Take Action page for inspiration.

I also take inspiration locally from Recovery Theater. It helps rural and small town youth experiencing addiction, depression or other challenges to build resilience and community through theater arts. The program is supported by foundations, businesses and individual donors.

If you are a grantmaker or donor who cares about the wellbeing of children and youth, how do you engage youth in promoting wellness? What role can spoken word, theater, video and other arts play in community education and youth leadership development?

Join the conversation in the comments section below and on Twitter!

Lisa Ranghelli is senior director of assessment and special projects at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. She promotes grantmaking that advances health equity. You can find her on Twitter @lisa_rang.