Longtime Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning has been waging a one-man battle against the city’s recently enacted sugary beverage ordinance. While most of the city has moved on to more important matters, Bob Dunning seems to want to rehash the debate.
There is a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric here that need to be parsed.
Mr. Dunning writes about the city council members: “[O]nce elected, these five took it upon themselves to come to the aid of overburdened parents who are incapable of proper parenting when dining with their children in some of Davis’ finest eating establishments.”
Mr. Dunning clearly does not understand this issue. We face a public health crisis locally and nationally with regard to childhood obesity and diabetes.
In their staff report, city staff cites the childhood obesity epidemic, where in Davis, roughly one-quarter of all children in grades 5, 7 and 9 are overweight or obese. Moreover, a study found that in 2012, more than half of all Davis 5th, 7th, and 9th graders failed to meet the CA Fitness Standards.
Staff writes, “Sugary beverages play a central and unique role in the obesity epidemic. Studies have found a significant link between sugary drink consumption and weight gain in children. Soda and sugary beverages are the single largest source of calories in children’s diets, and provide nearly half of kids’ added sugar intake.”
Mr. Dunning is also not considering that fact that nearly a quarter of the children in this town are low-income, Title I kids. We cannot assume that parents are well-educated on nutrition – given the level of the epidemic, we can’t assume any parent is well-educated.
But the tie between low-income, education level, and obesity and diabetes is alarming. For many low-income families, fast food is a staple.
Dr. Harold Goldstein is executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, based in Davis.
“I want to applaud this council for considering this ordinance,” Dr. Goldstein stated. “We are in the midst of a skyrocketing diabetes epidemic. Diabetes rates in the United States have quintupled five-fold in the last fifty years.”
One-quarter of teenagers have either diabetes or pre-diabetes, the doctor told the council. One-third of all kids and half of kids of color will have diabetes at some time in their lives.
“It is true there are a lot of contributing factors to both the childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic,” he said. “But without question, sugary beverages are the leading contributor. One twenty ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar. Imagine eating 16 teaspoons of sugar.”
These beverages “deliver their sugar in liquid form. These beverages are nothing other than a sugar delivery device. Because it’s delivered in liquid form, it’s absorbed into the body in as little as 30 minutes. That sugar then, over time, overwhelms the pancreas, wears out the pancreas and is converted in the liver into fat. Now we have kids who have fatty liver disease as if they’re alcoholics. They’re not drinking alcohol, they’re drinking sugar and the sugar gets converted into fat in the liver.”
He said, “There is no reason that kids should be given a sugary beverage when they go to a restaurant – without their parents asking for it.”
He called this policy as libertarian as it gets, as “parents still get to have a complete choice. But the default will be the healthy choice.”
That’s really the key point here – no one is having their right to give their children sugar infringed upon, but we need to start sending the message that sugar kills. It’s slow but, as someone who suffers from diabetes, the reality is painful.
Mr. Dunning then curiously writes: “The public, meanwhile, was kept mostly in the dark about this solution in search of a problem, mostly because no one in the general public had been demanding such an ordinance.”
There are often times when I think the public is kept in the dark on issues, either through their own inattention or lack of coverage. But this issue received a lot of coverage, both in the Enterprise and on the Vanguard.
On November 30, the Enterprise ran the front page story, “Mayor wants to reduce childhood obesity with healthy choices.” They followed it up a few days later with an A3 story, “Council starts process for soda ordinance.”
In April, the Enterprise ran a column from Raychel Kubby Adler, “Drink up, kids, but make your choice a healthy one.”
The Vanguard ran numerous articles, some of which received thousands of views and hundreds of comments.
The one thing that seems to be missing, however, is that the Enterprise ran its story on May 27, “Council Oks rule for healthy kids’ drinks.” The next day, Bob Dunning ran his very first column on the subject, “Who needs parents when we have the city council?”
So, the media covered the story fairly heavily in the six months from the time the idea was first introduced in November of 2014 until it was unanimously passed by council in May. If anyone is to blame for the public being in the dark on the issue, it’s the columnist who chose not to write on the issue until after council passed it, despite numerous opportunities to do so previously.
So why did so few people write the council to complain about this issue, even as they filled the email boxes on things like the CFD, innovation parks, and other critical matters? Probably because the issue doesn’t affect them.
If people want to order soft drinks for their kids they have every right to. The only thing this changes is that when you order your Happy Meal, McDonald’s offers you milk or juice rather than soda – oh wait, they already did that.
—David M. Greenwald reporting