top of page
ARK Home About Bakckground-01_edited.png

Public Health Epidemiology Conversations Podcast


Episode #53: Interview with Karen Akins, International Quit Soda Day

Karen Akins joins me to discuss her passion-driven project, a documentary about the negative impact of sugary drinks among children in rural Mexico. The documentary is scheduled to be complete around spring/summer of 2019. We plan to have Karen come back to the show next year to discuss the film once its closer to the point of release, because there will be a great opportunity to participate in an educational health promotion campaign within your own local communities. In this episode, we spend most of our time discussing International Quit Soda Day, which will be October 20, 2018.

Listen carefully as she tells her story, and you’ll be able to hear her passion for the various causes she describes and how that passion has been the driving force (something I’m always encouraging all of you to connect with. If you haven’t listened yet, be sure to check out podcast episode #16, which is all about finding your passion for public health.) I also want you to listen for the opportunities to get involved in raising awareness of the impact of sugary drinks in both of the health promotion projects that she will be describing during the interview.

Episode Highlights:

Karen summarize and describe your background, the work she did previously, and the kind of work she’s currently doing. She grew up in Texas, where her father was a scientist at a large public university. She had absolutely no interest in hard sciences, only the social science. She studied political science and moved to Washington, D.C. after college, where she worked in international trade policy until she started her family. At the moment, she’s working on her “passion project” and fulfilling her lifelong dream to make a documentary. The film, El Susto, is about diabetes and sugary drinks in Mexico.

Karen discusses her journey into public health, and how she initially became interested.

As a mother, she became concerned about kids who were not being physically active, and who were becoming obese.She became a transportation activist, promoting more sidewalks and bike facilities. She started walking school buses, organized Walk to School Day, worked at the state level to get more funding for Safe Routes to School.She became very active in this movement in Texas, Vermont, and even nationally as a Safe Routes to School trainer.

After her kids grew up, and she became an empty nester, she answered an ad in the local paper to go on a medical mission to Mexico.She really just wanted some sun and to get out of the cold Vermont winter.She knew nothing about diabetes at that time.

Karen discusses her experience in Mexico and how that led to the idea for the film. The mission trip that she went on was with a group of diabetes educators. They were testing local members of the community for diabetes. What they saw was shocking! She discusses a few details in the interview, such as very high rates of diabetes, stories they heard of unnecessary deaths, and lack of access to medical care. Their group tested both rural and urban communities for diabetes. In urban areas they tested, there were no taxi drivers, firemen, policemen, or even prisoners. Diabetes was everywhere! They saw people who were blind, or who had amputations. However, the people had no idea that these were complications of diabetes.

They also saw high levels of soda consumption all around them. Karen found out that this area of Mexico, the Yucatan, had the highest per capita consumption of Coke in the world. They heard stories of Coke in baby bottles. The advertisements were everywhere. In remote areas, Coke was often cheaper than water. She said that it really opened her eyes. Many of the people that were tested believed they got diabetes from “el susto” which is a severe fright which causes the soul to depart from the body. That became the inspiration for the name of Karen’s upcoming film, El Susto.

What is Quit Soda Day? Describe it and who started it, and why are you connecting with this mission.

Kevin Strong, a pediatrician from Maine, witnessed a high number of obese kids among his patient population in his practice. As a result, he started Quit Soda Day last year. He is very active in promoting education aimed at children. His website,, uses rap music and graffiti to convince kids that drinking soda is not cool. He’s a passionate health advocate and was open to growing the event this year.

This year will be the second annual International Quit Soda Day, marked by a cloud film where people from all over the world submit videos taking a pledge to quit soda. Karen and her team will edit the submitted videos into a short inspiration film that will be used to educate people about the link between sugary drinks and diabetes, and to encourage people to quit drinking soda.

If you’d like to participate, then the following links are provided to help you get started. Please note the deadlines for submission of your video, which Karen has extended to allow members of my audience to participate this year.

Hashtag to promote International Quit Soda Day (IQSD) on social media – October 20th #IQSD2018

Recap the important dates here.

  • September 20th-last day to submit videos for cloud film

  • October 20- 2nd annual International Quit Soda Day

  • Summer/Fall 2019 – private screening of feature film at conferences, meetings

  • Late 2019- Film release

Connect with Karen on:

Twitter: @enjoy_diabetes

  • This twitter account is a hub of information about sugary drinks, type 2 diabetes, soda taxes, junk food, advertising to kids, etc.

  • Feature film website where you can sign up for mailing list for updates. Later, once the film is released, you can receive information about where the film will be screening, or even to request a local screening through Tugg.

Like This Episode?

Click links below to share this episode with your network!

Comment below with your favorite takeaway!

bottom of page