For the second year in a row, legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, which would have imposed a two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, was killed for lack of support and pulled by the Assemblymember ahead of a scheduled vote on Tuesday.
This is the second year in a row of defeat on this issue. Last year, similar legislation lost in the Assembly Health Committee by four votes.
“I am disappointed that the committee failed to act today on one of the biggest health crises facing our nation,” said Assemblymember Bloom in a statement following last year’s defeat. “Diabetes is now the seventh largest cause of death in the nation. If current trends aren’t reversed, one-in-three children born after 2000—and specifically one-in-two African-American or Hispanic children—are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes. The overwhelming view of health experts is that the single most significant cause of obesity and diabetes is overconsumption of sugar.”
The setback comes among renewed pressure by the public health committee and new research such as a new UCLA study which found that nearly half of California adults – including one out of every three young adults – have prediabetes, a precursor to life-threatening Type 2 diabetes, or undiagnosed diabetes.
The study found that 13 million adults in California, which accounts for 46 percent of the state’s population, are estimated to have prediabetes or diabetes, while another 2.5 million adults (9 percent) have already been diagnosed with diabetes.
Combined, the two groups represent a majority of the state’s adult population, 15.5 million or 55 percent of the total population. “Since diabetes is more commonly seen among older adults, the study’s finding that 33 percent of young adults (18 to 39 years old) have prediabetes is of particular concern,” the release stated.
Dr. Harold Goldstein, the report’s co-author and executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, based in Davis, told the Bee that he did not expect to see such high numbers. He told the paper, “The numbers are so large that they stop you in your tracks. … It’s hard to digest that the situation is as bad as it is.”
Moreover, he added, “These are the young adults who grew up during the childhood obesity epidemic.”
He said in a release, “This is the clearest indication to date that the Type 2 diabetes epidemic is out of control and getting worse. With limited availability of healthy food in low income communities, a preponderance of soda and junk food marketing, and urban neighborhoods lacking safe places to play, we have created a world where diabetes is the natural consequence.”
However, efforts to impose a soda tax have fallen to defeat. Not only have bills to tax soft drinks failed, but more innocuous bills to put labels on high sugar drinks have as well.
Locally, the 3-2 council vote to reject putting a soda tax on the ballot was just one of many setbacks for a movement to curtail the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.
The Davis City Council, under pressure from the beverage industry who dumped millions into fighting soda tax campaigns in Sacramento and Berkeley, decided to study the issue.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis has called this “the public health crisis of our time,” and in January warned that we have children “whose lives are starting to be taken away by fatty liver disease and the problem of over-consumption of sugary beverages.”
“These are lives lost, these are lives changed, these are families altered in ways that we can’t take back,” he continued.
“The challenge of sugar beverages is quite simple, they’re a delivery mechanism,” he explained. “They deliver fructose to the liver in probably the most efficient means of doing so. Quickly. And rather than being cleared by the liver, that sugar stays there and is turned into fat and that fat and the inhibition of fat burning that goes along with it, means that all the precursors of diabetes, heart disease and coronary artery disease – the genesis is occurring in that location.”
In Yolo County, the number is 48 percent of all adults – who have diabetes or prediabetes. As startling as that number may be, however, Yolo County is better off than most counties.
Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said in February that, as Superintendent, she toured schools in all 58 counties in California and said that parents and teachers alike are alarmed by the overweight conditions of our students. “This leads too often to things like Type-2 diabetes, to things like sleep apnea, and other impacts on health.”
She cited a UCLA study showing that being overweight can shorten your life by over 20 years. “We must be focused on the health of our children – the ounce of prevention that’s worth a pound of cure. Or an ounce less of sugar that’s worth a healthy child.”
The tax may reduce consumption, she said. “We hope so. The truth be known, kids are drinking, way, way, way too much sugar.” However, she called it “terrifying” how much sugar kids are consuming when they drink more than one soda in a day.
But the beverage industry is formidable. They pumped millions into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a Berkeley soda tax, but were successful at defeating a similar one in San Francisco.
In December, pressure by the industry was able to flip Davis Mayor Dan Wolk just two weeks after a group of elected and former elected officials, including Senator Lois Wolk, pushed for council to put the soda tax on the ballot.
Mayor Wolk had been a strong backer of a healthy families initiative, which included changing the default beverage away from sugary drinks in Davis. However, in February he distanced himself from the soda tax, claiming, “The soda tax has never been part of my, our, highly successful healthy families initiative. Though certainly becoming the first city in the nation to eliminate soda from kids’ meals or at least making milk and water the default beverage was one thing, and we accomplished that and I’m really proud.”
He said, “I’m not a big fan of big soda, it’s a real issue in our society.” He added, “What has been part of my vision is to pass a revenue measure in June 2016, that would fund at least parks and recs facilities, that would fund infrastructure.”
The mayor would add, “I’m intrigued by a soda tax. I want to definitely learn more about it. But as an infrastructure revenue measure, that’s to me what we should be focused on in June 2016,” the mayor continued. “I think we need a different tool.”
He concluded, “The soda tax is very controversial. It hasn’t been… studied or really vetted by the community. It would engender well-funded opposition – that’s clear certainly from Berkeley. And it would have difficulty at the ballot box.”
The Sacramento Bee reports that the beverage industry has been involved in heavy lobbying on this issue. “The California Nevada Beverage Association, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have spent at least $413,000 on lobbying since the start of 2015, according to records filed with the California secretary of state. The industry spent nearly $500,000 on campaign contributions during the last election cycle.”
However, the public health crisis continues. The UCLA study found that ‘‘not only does diabetes increase the risk of serious medical complications, but it is also extremely costly to families, businesses, health care plans, states, and the nation.’’
They add, “Despite medical advances helping those with diabetes to live longer today than in the past, a 50-year-old individual with diabetes will, on average, die 8.5 years earlier than someone without diabetes.”
The study notes, “Diabetes cost the United States an estimated $245 billion in 2012, with $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in indirect costs (e.g. lost productivity, disability and premature death).
“In California, total health care and related costs for the treatment of diabetes is about $24.5 billion each year. The disease adds an extra $1.6 billion dollars every year in just hospitalization costs, with hospital stays for patients with diabetes costing nearly $2,200 more than for patients without diabetes. Three-quarters of that care is paid through Medicare and Medi-Cal, including $254 million in costs that are paid by Medi-Cal tax dollars. On average, medical expenditures for people with diabetes are 2.3 times more expensive than for those without diabetes.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting