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Obesity prevention group proposes tax on sugary beverages

A 1 cent tax on sodas in Los Angeles would generate $114,354,846 in 2014 to combat obesity
A 1 cent tax on sodas in Los Angeles would generate $114,354,846 in 2014 to combat obesity
Robin Wulffson, MD

The word “tax” is a buzzword that produces a knee-jerk action if it affects you personally. On January 30, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) made an announcement that will be applauded by many health advocates and booed by many soft drink lovers. The organization has launched an easy-to-use soda tax calculator, which estimates the potential revenue of a soda tax for every city in the state with a population over 25,000.

CCPHA is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is focused on solving the obesity and diabetes epidemics by advocating for new policies that will improve the health of Californians. The organization notes that California is in the midst of a major public health crisis: the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Sadly, more than 60% of adult Californians are overweight and the number of obese children has more than tripled in the last three decades. In addition, diabetes rates have increased by more than 50% since 2000. Approximately one-third of children born today will develop diabetes during their lifetime. Annually obesity, overweight status, and physical inactivity cost California more than $53 billion dollars in lost productivity and medical expenses.

CCPHA notes that numerous clinical studies have found that sodas and other sugary drinks are a major contributor to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. A single 20 ounce bottle of soda contains more than 16 teaspoons of sugar, delivering a staggering 240 calories (equivalent to the number of calories in two eggs and two slices of bacon). However, calories from sodas do not trigger the sensation of fullness. Instead, they deliver a stream of insulin-inducing sugar to the bloodstream, without a trace of nutritional value. These calories add up silently over the years, contributing to today’s public health crisis.

As a justification for the “sugar tax,” CCPHA points to cigarette taxes, which have contributed to a major decline in lung cancer rates by both decreasing consumption and funding programs that promote healthy lifestyles. The organization notes that, in a similar fashion, a local penny or two per ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks could decrease soda consumption, improve the health of city residents, and provide a significant funding stream to cities that have an interest in strengthening health programs, health education, and providing safe places for children to play and be active.

CCPHA notes that its versatile tool will allow municipal officials, community organizations and concerned citizens to determine if a per ounce soda tax is a viable option to raise revenues for parks, recreation, education, and nutrition programs, while decreasing sugary drinks consumption, one of the leading contributors to overweight and obesity. For example, using the tax calculator, entering a 1 cent tax on sodas in Los Angeles would generate $114,354,846 in 2014.

The California City Soda Tax Calculator, together with background information, fact sheets and contact information for support on how to advance a municipal soda tax are available at this link.

Funding for the project was derived from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research and the American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids Program. Collaborators included the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity (Tatiana Andreyeva, PhD, Director of Economic Initiatives), and University of Illinois at Chicago (Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, Professor of Economics; and Lisa Powell, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Administration).

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