In California, a Tax on Sugary Drinks is the First Step in the Fight Against Obesity

 

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet. In California, a proposed tax on sugary drinks could help reduce their consumption.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet. In California, a proposed tax on sugary drinks could help reduce their consumption.

In California, it’s become nearly impossible to read the news without hearing something about soda. Voters in two liberal California cities, Berkeley and San Francisco, are contemplating excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in next week’s election. A few months ago, members of the California State Assembly proposed (and failed to pass) legislation that would place a safety warning label on sugary drinks.[1] Over the summer, the documentary Fed Up brought the issue of added sugar to movie theaters across the country and in July, congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) proposed a national soda tax.[2] Sugary drinks – such as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas – have become public health’s new nemesis, and with good reason.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet, and are directly linked to type 2 diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and tooth decay.[3] The average American guzzles 150 calories (about the amount in a 12oz can) of sugar-sweetened beverages every day – that’s a whopping 45 gallons per year! Recent data from a statewide health survey showed that 2 out of 3 California teenagers drink at least one soda or other sugary drink daily.[4] Even a single soda per day increases one’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%.[5] Despite their detrimental health effects, the beverage industry continues to aggressively market these unhealthy drinks – particularly to kids and communities of color.

Public health advocates, such as those in California, have realized that policy solutions may be the most effective way to reduce sugary drink consumption because they have a broad impact. Earlier this year, JSI worked with ChangeLab Solutions and the nearby Alameda County (CA) Department of Public Health  to investigate the health and economic impacts of obesity on county residents, as well as potential policy solutions that might address them. Sugar-sweetened beverages stuck out to County stakeholders and residents as a major contributor to obesity – especially among youth. Some of the policy strategies discussed included: excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages; healthy procurement standards for public entities (such as schools and government); and retail strategies to incentivize healthy food and drink and limit the sale of sugary drinks (such as licensing ordinances or zoning laws).

Even if the current proposed taxes on sugary drinks don’t pass on November 4, 2014, putting them on the ballot has reinvigorated an important conversation about the negative health impacts of “liquid sugar” found in sugar-sweetened beverages. At the local level, communities can take steps such as those discussed in our report to begin turning the tide against soda consumption. If the war on soda is anything like the war on tobacco, those of us in the public health world have a lot of work ahead of us.

*Disclaimer: The author is a volunteer for Berkeley vs. Big Soda, Berkeley’s proposed tax.

 

 

[1] http://www.publichealthadvocacy.org/resources/warninglabel/sodawarninglabel.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/30/opinion/mark-bittman-introducing-the-national-soda-tax.html?_r=0
[3]http://www.publichealthadvocacy.org/_PDFs/stillbubblingover/PolicyBrief.pdf and http://www.kickthecan.info/files/documents/Health%20Consequences_7.26.13.pdf
[4]http://www.publichealthadvocacy.org/_PDFs/stillbubblingover/PolicyBrief.pdf
[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20693348

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