Soapbox

Soda taxes will not reduce obesity. This is a better way.

Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, sips a Coke as Assembly members debate a ban on local soda taxes on June 28. Lawmakers passed a bill to ban local taxes on soda for the next 12 years and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it.
Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, sips a Coke as Assembly members debate a ban on local soda taxes on June 28. Lawmakers passed a bill to ban local taxes on soda for the next 12 years and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it. AP

Since the California Legislature voted to ban local beverage taxes through 2030, there has been a lot of talk in the media about which side is "winning" or "losing" the debate.

Rather than taking sides, Californians are best served when beverage companies, governments and public health organizations find ways to work together to help people consume less sugar while also protecting jobs and local businesses.

Opinion

While some see beverage taxes as a "silver bullet" to fight obesity and fund local governments, we've seen that solutions are not that simple. A study on the soda tax in Berkeley, for example, found that intake from taxed beverages decreased just six calories a day, while intake from untaxed beverages rose 32 calories a day. Another study found that Mexico's beverage tax reduced daily calories by only 4.9 per day, which would have no effect on obesity rates.

That's why we strongly believe there are better, more effective ways to reduce the sugar that people drink over the long term.

Susan Neely.jpg
Susan Neely

For example, in 2014, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the American Beverage Association and the nation's top beverage companies announced a new partnership to encourage consumer interest in and improve access to lower-calorie beverages. The Balance Calories Initiative puts aside the competitive differences of our member companies to reduce calories and sugar consumed from beverages nationally by 20 percent by 2025.

This is a bold goal, so we're tapping our strengths in marketing, innovation and distribution. We're also conducting intense efforts in communities facing the greatest challenges with obesity, including East Los Angeles. By working with community groups to learn what works in these markets, we gain insights to apply elsewhere.

Our industry also has changed dramatically over the last decade to provide more beverages with less sugar to keep up with Americans' evolving tastes. Since 2000, Americans have reduced their consumption of sugar from carbonated soft drinks by 31 percent per person, per day.

Nearly half of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased today contain no sugar; and 60 percent of new brands and flavors are low- or no-calorie drinks. We are introducing smaller packages with less sugar, and sales of these smaller packages are consistently growing.

We recognize that the task ahead is not easy. But if fierce competitors such as Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper can work together, then surely we can find a better way to partner with public health advocates who also want meaningful solutions to obesity without harming local jobs and businesses.

Susan Neely is president and CEO of the American Beverage Association. She can be contacted at sneely@ameribev.org.

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