It was a comprehensive public health campaign to curb the consumption of drinks loaded with extra sugar and empty calories.
"Unfortunately, the rates of both obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are skyrocketing, both in Howard County and in our country,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO of The Horizon Foundation. “We do know that sugary drinks is the largest single source of added sugar in children's diets."
The American Heart Association says women and children should have a maximum of 6 teaspoons of added sugar in their daily diets. Soda, sports drinks and 100 percent juice all have more than that in just one serving. One can of soda contains about nine teaspoons of added sugar.
Those numbers aren't so sweet for your health.
Over the last four years, The Horizon Foundation's Howard County Unsweetened campaign focused on making policy and education changes, as well as working with groups in the area to set kids on a course for a healthy future.
In 2014, the group worked with the Howard County School System to update their wellness policy and eliminated vending machines for students in all public schools. They also were behind a state law that same year that prohibits licensed childcare centers from serving sugary drinks.
A local law in 2015 made healthier foods and drinks more widely available on government property.
“75 percent of the vending machine needs to be healthy, and then 25 percent can be other options,” Highsmith Vernick said.
There are also commercials, social marketing messages and partnering throughout the county.
"There was lots of engagement, there were industry partners, there was partners from the schools, the childcare, health professionals, the dentists,” aaid Dr. Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “There were so many different groups that were a part of it, that I think it's a terrific blueprint for other communities."
The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity studied the effort in Howard County to find out if the targeted approach translated into fewer transactions of sugar-high beverages at grocery stores.
From 2012 through 2014, researchers found the sales of sugar-sweetened drinks dropped 20 percent. Fruit flavored drinks and 100% juices also stayed on the shelves more, sales are down 15 percent.
"My hope would be that parents would think twice about that and would really focus on giving their children water and low-fat milk and have those really be the main beverages that their children consume," Schwartz said.
The study compared weekly beverage sales of top brands from 15 grocery stores in Howard County, with a matched set of 17 supermarkets in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"I think we're really making a difference,” Highsmith Vernick said. “Parents want these changes, they want to provide healthy options to their kids and this is one of those parental values."