UVM’s Bottles Unintended Consequences

, Malcolm A. Kline, 2 Comments

Academics really need to study the effects of unintended consequences more often. When the University of Vermont, one of the greenest campuses in one of the greenest states, banned bottled water, the school gave students an incentive to consumer sugary drinks.

bottled water ban arch vermont

Bottled water arch to celebrate the ban, made by college students (h/t VTDigger.org)

“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,” Elizabeth R. Berman and Rachel K. Johnson wrote in a study which appears this month in the American Journal of Public Health. “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.” Berman and Johnson are with the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

They found that:

  • “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;” and
  • “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”