Paris Circle K’s, Bee Well partner

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We all need the occasional reminder to think healthy and Bee Well of Edgar County has partnered with two local convenience stores in promoting healthier choices.

Bee Well coalition members Mary Liz Wright and Brandi Eaton worked with managers at the Circle K stores on Main and Jasper streets Wednesday, July 3, to place Bee Well approved stickers on the fresh fruit display, water dispensers and in the coolers where bottled water, milk and 100 percent juices are kept for customers.

“I’m so excited to have these convenience stores be so welcoming,” said Wright. “They care about their community.”

Bee Well formed in 2014 when a coalition of health care professionals, business leaders and concerned citizens grew alarmed by two separate studies ranking Edgar County as one of the unhealthiest places in Illinois because of the high rate of obesity and heart health issues among the local population.

One issue Bee Well, and other groups fighting obesity, struggles against is the amount of hidden sugar found in processed foods like soft drinks and snacks.

According to the official websites for Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew, the sugar content of a 12-ounce can of Coke is 39 grams and Mountain Dew has 46 grams of sugar per 12-ounces. Translating grams into figures that are more understandable for Americans reveals just how much sugar a person consumes with each 12-ounce beverage. The 39 grams in Coke is the equivalent of 3.1 tablespoons of sugar, and Mountain Dew’s 46 grams is 3 2/3 tablespoons. That is nearly a quarter-cup of sugar in each can. The amount of sugar goes up when drinks are supersized.

“We want people to make healthier choices,” said Wright. “We want people to drink less sugar-based beverages.”

She added during the hot weather over the last couple of weeks, the body needs water – not sugar to stay hydrated. Sugar is also a diuretic causing more frequent urination and can lead to dehydration if water consumption does not keep pace.

Eaton, a nurse with the Edgar County Health Department, said beverages marketed as sports drinks are not a healthier choice than soft drinks and offer no real advantage over water for the average person. The sports drinks, she said, are loaded with sugar and salt.

“Unless you are really an athlete who just finished a marathon, it is more than you need,” said Eaton.

She added one option for those who want a sports drink is to dilute it with water as a way of cutting sugar and salt consumption.

“Reducing obesity reduces the risk for diabetes and heart disease,” said Eaton.

According to Horizon Health’s 2016 Community Health Needs assessment, the heart disease rate in Edgar County is 43 percent higher than the state average and Edgar County has the highest death rate among the neighboring counties of Clark, Coles, Crawford, Douglas and Vermilion.

Managers at both stores said they are happy to support the Bee Well initiative. One of the Bee Well approved stickers went on the water tab at the fountain drink machine in the Jasper Street store. Consumers there can buy a Polar Pop size of ice water for 35 cents plus tax at the fountain. The Main Street store also sells a Polar Pop ice water for 35 cents and tax but the water comes through a faucet at the coffee bar instead of the fountain machine.

Both stores have always had an option for buying ice water as opposed to a soft drink.

Mike Freeman, the assistant manager for the Main Street store, had no concerns that promoting healthier options will have a negative impact on other sales.

“There is a lot of ice water sold in the store,” said Freeman. “I work evenings, and I see those sales.”

Soft drink sales still outpace ice water purchases said Starla Hollingsworth, manager of the Jasper Street store. She estimated the sales of Polar Pop size ice water at 20-30 units per day.

Hollingsworth also supports Bee Well’s push for healthy decision making because she is seeing that trend developing among some of her customers, noting a line of vitamin water added last year sells consistently well.

“People are looking for healthier things,” said Hollingsworth. “They don’t necessarily want the junk.”