After a long day of classes and an even longer week of assignments, sometimes a Sprite is just what you need. But what happens when it’s been replaced with… lime sparkling water? Confused, you sigh and settle for the alternative. On the drink dispenser is a sign about a new initiative for beverages on campus.

“I just want to get a Pepsi,” said second-year Oakes affiliate Kal Glenn.

The Healthy Beverage Initiative (HBI) was created in 2015 and put into effect by UC Santa Cruz in 2019. The initiative is designed to aid tap water access and encourage others to use it as an alternative for “sugar-sweetened beverages” (SSBs).

The Healthy Beverage Initiative (HBI) hopes that absolving conventional sodas in favor of zero-sugar soft drinks could still satiate a sweet tooth. Illustration by Sean Nguyen.

At the beginning of winter quarter 2023, the usual soda fountain options such as Fanta and Sprite were replaced by the sparkling water brand, bubly, and diet sodas. 

Jessica Bulleri, the Campus Wellness Program Manager at UCSC’s Office of Risk Services, discusses why the HBI was implemented and the impact they aim to create. 

“The Healthy Beverage Initiative is a UC-wide initiative that focuses on increasing access to tap water and marketing water as a healthy alternative to sugar sweetened beverages, with the goal of reducing sugar sweetened beverage consumption,” Bulleri said in an email statement to City on a Hill Press

The HBI has also brought water bottle filling stations to almost every part of campus, including the Crown College Clock Tower, Baskin Engineering Auditorium, and the Academic Resource Center. 

These filling stations serve the purpose of reducing plastic waste, encouraging the use of reusable bottles over single-use bottles. 

 “I’ve noticed them around and they have been helpful, especially when I’m running late to class and can’t afford to just buy water,” third-year student Avneesh Muralitharan said.

The initiative, originally piloted at UCSF, based its findings from staff who volunteered for a ten-month study in which they completely avoided SSBs and experienced “a significant loss of belly fat, as well as lower cholesterol and improved insulin resistance.” 

Their pilot study drawing data from exclusively staff doesn’t account for other important factors such as different age groups and consumption in moderation.

The end goal is to move towards “partial or even a full removal of sugar-sweetened beverage sales… [in an effort to prevent] chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, obesity, and its related cardiometabolic conditions,”  Risk Services said in an online statement. 

Although the fill stations have been received positively, students have raised concerns about whether or not the drink alternatives the initiative offers instead actually help students. 

“It seems counterintuitive because drinking Diet Pepsi every day is worse than drinking a regular Pepsi every day because aspartame is much more addictive and a lot more unhealthy for the body,” Glenn explained.  

Studies from UCLA, UPenn, and other institutions have shown that “diet” alternatives of drinks have fewer health benefits than the original, often leading to increased heart problems, chronic kidney disease, and even strokes. While diet drinks have less sugar and fewer calories than their counterparts, artificial sweeteners and other chemicals mean “diet” is not always better. 

But as dining services move full steam ahead with the new beverage choices, a silver lining remains for carbonated drink connoisseurs.

“I’m just glad that there’s still diet sodas,” Glenn said.