A qualitative analysis of the perceived socio-cultural contexts and health concerns of sugar-sweetened beverages among adults studying or working at a post-secondary institution in Dharwad, India
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Abstract Background We sought to explore the perceptions of the socio-cultural contexts and health concerns of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) among Indian adults working or studying at a post-secondary institution in Karnataka, India. Methods We completed a qualitative study, including 24 semi-structured interviews between 2017 and 2018 at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka, India. Data were analyzed using thematic content analysis. Results One over-arching theme emerged, westernization and changing perceptions of food, sugar, and health. Participants discussed SSB and associated health concerns in the broad context of westernization and overall economic development in India. Three sub-themes regarding the health perceptions of consuming SSB were: healthy drinks are clean and natural; hydration and energy; and moderation and body weight. Hygienically-prepared beverages were a consistent concern among participants. Juices and beverages, such as tea or coffee, sweetened with jaggery were viewed positively due to their naturalness and lack of processed sugar. Participants perceived SSB as providing hydration and energy, particularly in hot weather. Lastly, if consumed in moderation, SSB were thought to have no direct adverse health consequences. Though some participants noted excessive, ‘addictive’ consumption would contribute to weight gain and diabetes. Conclusion Perceived health concerns of SSB reflect dominant health issues in India, namely, food insecurity, food safety, and increasingly, diabetes. Policymakers tend to prioritize acute challenges over long-term concerns. As such, the capacity of any policy to address chronic nutritional concerns related to SSB are likely to be muted in the absence of improvements to food safety and security.