The Tribune’s recent editorial entitled, “Soda tax is well meaning but unfair,” about my efforts to combat childhood obesity in Senate Bill (SB) 622 missed the mark. Calling the proposal unfair for singling out one unhealthful product is analogous to what we heard from the tobacco industry more than 25 years ago. The sad truth is that the unique and proven harm from liquid sugar, combined with aggressive marketing targeted at children, create a dangerous mixture.
The current childhood obesity epidemic is being driven by alarming rates of sweetened beverage consumption that are overwhelming our health care system and shortening children’s life expectancy. For every additional sweetened beverage a child drinks, his/her risk for obesity increases by 60 percent. If the current obesity trend among children is not reversed, it is predicted that 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop preventable Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.
This information is confirmed in articles and policy reports produced by respected health researchers, including the New England Journal of Medicine and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, which also unequivocally recommends that sweetened beverage consumption by children needs to be reduced. Additionally, researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity provided testimony at a hearing on SB 622 and stated, “more than for any category of foods, rigorous scientific studies have shown that consumption of soft drinks is associated with poor diet, increasing rates of obesity and risk for diabetes.”
As taxpaying Californians, we should all be outraged that we are paying the high public health costs associated with sweetened beverage consumption, regardless of whether or not we consume these products. With two-thirds of adults overweight, health care costs are skyrocketing and expensive obesity-related chronic diseases are costing Californians an estimated $52 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity.
We can make it easier for children and their families to make more healthful eating and physical activity choices. My bill sets forth specific uses for the funds that would be generated, and requires a performance review to ensure these programs are producing positive results. Similar to how California’s tobacco taxes have funded anti-tobacco activities to dramatically reduce consumption and save lives, a sugary drink tax is modeled for the same success.
And as with tobacco taxes, my intent is to have a sugar-sweetened beverage tax passed on to those who consume sugar-sweetened beverages. SB 622 does not eliminate access to products or choice to consumers, but would assess a tax that will result in more equitable pricing between sugary drinks and more healthful drinks, while also supporting proven public health programs.
The peer-reviewed research is conclusive — sugary drinks are the leading contributor to obesity and preventable chronic diseases among children. By ignoring this reality, we will have, for the first time in modern history, a generation of children that will have a shorter life expectancy than its parents.
It is not too late to reverse course and set an alternative path toward health and prosperity. I hope you will join me in support of the sweetened beverage tax for the health of our children.
Sen. Bill Monning represents the 17th Senate District, which includes all of San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz counties and portions of Monterey and Santa Clara counties.