Last week, Dr. Harold Goldstein, speaking during public comment, asked that the council “consider” putting a soda tax on the ballot in June, noting a “worldwide movement to begin taxing sugary drinks.”
“The main reason is that sugary drinks have no positive health benefit,” he said. He held up a jar of sugar demonstrating how much one jar of sugar a day would be a on weekly basis. “One twenty ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar,” he said, noting that sugar beverages are a leading contributor to obesity and diabetes.
He noted that part of the problem is that the body absorbs the sugar through liquid in as little as 30 minutes. The glucose, he explained, “overwhelms the pancreas whose job is to balance (the body’s) sugar levels. The fructose turns to fat in (the) liver. The combination of burned out pancreas and fatty liver is what causes diabetes.
“One-quarter of teenagers in this country now have diabetes or pre-diabetes,” he said. He added that his center will be releasing a report in the coming of months showing that a majority of Californians have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
“The benefit of a soda tax, as proven in Berkeley, the first city in the country to pass it, is you get to reduce consumption by raising the price and you get money as revenue that you can use to mitigate the harms caused by those products – so it is a win-win,” he continued. “It counteracts the beverage industries’ marketing. They’re spending half a billion dollars a year marketing to kids with taglines like ‘live for today’ as though teenagers need more encouragement to live for today.”
This weekend he was joined by Former State Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin and Helen Thomson, a former County Supervisor and Assemblymember who spoke briefly on Tuesday as well.
They note that a group of Davis parents, business owners, health-care providers, elected officials and community leaders have asked the city council to put a sugary drink tax on the June ballot.
The initiative, they say, “would be an easily implemented per-ounce tax on beverage distributors that would raise as much as $2 million annually to refurbish city facilities and programs that have contracted or crumbled during our recent fiscal downturn.
“With our proposed framework,” they argue, “the revenue’s specific allocation would meet the shifting needs of our community through the advice of our Social Services Commission and Recreation & Parks Commission, or some other mechanism that ensures thorough public input and guidance.”
Adding to the reputation of Davis as a bike capital of the nation, “we soon can be known for tackling one of the greatest modern-day public health threats: obesity and diabetes.
“Why focus on sugary beverages?” they ask. “We all know that the sugar in Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade and Monster is bad for us. But many people are not aware of how uniquely harmful these beverages are. Organizations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association to the American Medical Association all consider these beverages to be health threats and support sugary drink taxes.
“What makes sugary drinks ‘uniquely harmful’?” they ask. “Sodas, sports drinks, vitamin waters, sweet teas and fruity drinks are the single largest sources of the added sugars we consume each day. One 20-ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar. Imagine putting that much sugar in your morning coffee. Imagine having your kids put that much sugar on their morning cereal!
“We’ve all seen the increases in soda can and bottle sizes over the past few decades,” they write. “Now we are starting to experience the consequences: a dramatic rise in diabetes and fatty liver disease. A quarter of teens are now pre-diabetic or have ‘adult-onset’ diabetes — not surprising, given that two-thirds of teens drink one or more sugary beverages every day.”
They note, “We are currently raising the first generation of kids who could be outlived by their parents. The scientific evidence is damning. It shows unequivocally that guzzling liquid sugar is killing people.”
They acknowledge that the soda tax “is not the silver bullet.” But they argue that soda taxes will “over time… lower sugary drink consumption.” At the same time, “They raise a significant amount of money to fund desperately needed diabetes and obesity prevention programs.”
They offer proof in the form of Mexico’s first enacted national soda tax in 2013. They write, “At the end of the first tax year, sugary drink consumption dropped 12 percent. Our neighbors in Berkeley followed suit, passing a tax initiative last year with 76 percent support. Their tax generates $120,000 a month for children’s health-related programs.”
They note that “fifty years ago, when scientists showed that smoking tobacco led to heart attacks and lung cancer, public health experts worked tirelessly to inform people of the dangers and tax tobacco sales. Smoking rates dropped dramatically.
“We now face a similar health crisis because of sugar-loaded beverages,” they write. “Let’s make Davis a national leader in making sure children live long and healthy lives. A tax on sugary drinks in the city of Davis won’t eliminate the problem of people consuming too many sugary drinks overnight. But it’s a much-needed start that will indeed be heard around the world.
“If Davis were to adopt a sugary drink tax, the revenue raised could fund a variety of obesity and diabetes prevention programs. Whether it’s the development of safe places to play, support of after-school recreational programs, expanded farm-to-school/nutrition education programs or the maintenance of city parks and pools, it makes all the sense in the world to fund community enhancements with a tax on sugary beverages,” they continue.
They conclude, “And after Davis passes a tax, other places are sure to follow our lead.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting