Viewpoints: Obesity crisis demands tax on sugary drinks

05/23/2013 12:00 AM

05/28/2013 8:42 AM

The beverage industry is in a real bind. On one hand, the major drink manufacturers that produce soda, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks are an American success story. They have made some of the most iconic products in the world and have developed some of the most ingenious ad campaigns. They have found ways to sell their products everywhere, increase portion sizes, keep prices low, and expand product lines in response to changing consumer tastes.

But for this industry, success has its downside. A 20-ounce soda has the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar and the average American now drinks 42 gallons of sugary beverages every year, twice as much as in the 1980s.

As a result, soda and other sugary drinks have contributed as much as 40 percent of the new calories that Americans have consumed since the obesity crisis began 30 years ago, making them the single leading contributor to the obesity epidemic.

Research shows both long-term and immediate harm from consuming sugary drinks. For each additional soda children drink per day, their risk of obesity increases by 60 percent. Controlled trials – the gold standard of scientific research – show increases in heart disease precursors after consuming sugary drinks for just two weeks; and after consuming these beverages for just six months, fat begins accumulating in the liver (a major precursor to diabetes). Because our bodies absorb the sugar in beverages much faster than calories in solid food, blood sugar spikes just 30 minutes after drinking sugary beverages.

Given its growing impact on health, sugary drink consumption has reached a tipping point. Almost 40 percent of California children are overweight. One-third of all children will have diabetes sometime in their lives. With two-thirds of adults overweight, health care costs are skyrocketing and expensive obesity-related chronic diseases are costing the state approximately $52 billion a year.

The status quo is no longer acceptable. It is time to set an alternative path toward health and well-being.

As Californians, we value free enterprise because it stimulates innovation and is the engine that drives economic growth. At the same time, when a product jeopardizes the public's health, dramatically increases government costs and puts children's well-being in jeopardy, it is time to put on the brakes.

That is what we did with tobacco and overwhelming scientific evidence shows it's time to do the same with sugary drinks. That is what Senate Bill 622, California's proposed Sweetened Beverage Tax, is about.

By levying a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, SB 622 will generate $1.7 billion a year to fund nutrition education, parks and recreation programs, physical education and healthy school meals.

Sugary drinks are not the only cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Instead, they are being singled out for the unique and proven harm they are doing to the health of Californians, particularly children. While we admire corporate innovation and profitability, we also recognize that part of the price of success is paying to fix the damage you create along the way.

Bill Monning, D-Monterey, represents the 17th Senate District and is the author of SB 622. Dr. Harold Goldstein is executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.


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