Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Outpacing Florida in Obesity, Health Dept/IFAS Promoting Healthy Changes

Melanie McAfee demonstrates how may teaspoons of sugar are in one can of coke.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On October 12, 2018, the Columbia County Health Department, through its monthly Columbia Wellness Initiative Program, had as its guests Melanie McAfee and Judy Dampier of UF/IFAS (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture), who focused on sugar in sodas and other drinks and the benefits of making healthy choices.


Melanie McAfee, program manager for the family nutrition program for Columbia, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee, and Taylor Counties, pointed out that a can of coke has 39 grams of sugar which translates into 10 teaspoons of sugar: 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon.

Ms. McAfee said to oohs and ahhs as she held up a five pound bag of sugar, "If you drank two cans a day for 30 days it would comparable to eating a 5 pound bag of sugar."

Ms. McAfee pointed out that the hometown drink, Gatorade, while it fared better, was still problematic. The large size of Gatorade has 34 grams of sugar which equals 8 ½ teaspoons of sugar.

One member of the audience pointed out, "Almost as much as the coke."

Ms. McAfee warned, "There are a lot of hidden sugars in the things that we drink that we may not realize that we are consuming."

Columbia County resident Barbara Lemley asked why the SNAP program (food stamps) hasn't eliminated from approved purchases Cokes and the sweetened beverages that have high sugar content.

Judy Dampier of UF/IFAS explained, "Part of it has to do with the fear of government dictating and not allowing choice."

Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease

Ms. McAfee added, "We do know there's a lot of sugar in Coke and all, but we should be mindful that too much sugar can lead to chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other things."

Your reporter asked, "How is IFAS spreading the word?"

Ms. McAfee explained, "We are grant funded; based out of UF; we deliver nutrition education in 37 counties in Florida. We are in elementary schools; we have curriculum in early child care centers all the way up to senior centers. We have a program assistant in each of the 37 counties and they are out delivering nutrition education."

Another attendee asked, "You're saying that the best thing for us to do is drink water?"

Ms. McAfee answered, "Yes ma'am."

Reading the label on a bottle of Gatorade proved to be very revealing.

There was a discussion about fruit juice available in the supermarket and Ms. McAfee advised that folks "read the label" to make sure the drink is 100% fruit juice and not packed with added high fructose corn syrup or additional sugar.

Program Specifics

The program concluded with UF's 20 year veteran Judy Dampier, who is involved in the USDA grant funded program to "increase healthy eating and physical activity among SNAP eligible populations in our counties."

SNAP, (supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program) is the program through the USDA (US Dept. of Agriculture) which offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.

Ms. Dampier explained that the program is creating healthy child care centers; working in and with the schools; and taking the program out into the community.

Ms. Dampier said, "Education about what you're eating and what you are doing is one of the primary missions of our program."

Transportation in Rural Communities

Ms. Dampier continued, "Another thing that I found in a lot of communities that affects health is the lack of transportation. People don't have transportation to get to the gym, to a farmers market or a grocery store to buy fresh fruits and vegetables."

Our goal is to "provide free nutrition education programs and also to help make changes to policy, systems and environments that are in the communities."

Ms. Dampier pointed out that in Florida (18 years old and higher) 1 in 4 are obese. Ms. Dampier said the obesity rate in Columbia County exceeded state averages.

Funding Stream: Trickle Down Money

Ms. Dampier explained the funding stream: "It's weird. We're a USDA grant that's administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) through UF/IFAS in a county." The audience laughed.

Editor's note: As the grant funding moves through the bureaucratic food chain everyone takes their cut, thus reducing the amount of money that actually benefits the people that the grant is supposed to benefit.

Melanie McAfee (left), Judy Dampier (rt.)

Have Suggestions?

Ms. Dampier said they are looking for suggestions to improve the program. She can be reached at mullanju@ufl.edu.

Ms. McAfee can be reached at melmcafee@ufl.edu.


Ms. Dampier came to the meeting with a federally funded and informative PowerPoint presentation which explained the program. However, she would not make it available after the meeting, nor would she forward it, claiming that some of the photos may not have been released.

If it becomes available, we will update the article with a link to the PowerPoint or post it ourselves.

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