Last month, the city of Philadelphia took a huge step forward for a large U.S. city by passing health related legislation in the form of a soda tax. The city of Brotherly Love followed in the footsteps of the modestly-sized city of Berkeley, which back in November of 2015 passed Measure D, an initiative to implement a soda tax.
As diabetes has increased in the United States over the past 15 years, it is becoming more important to understand that besides healthy living habits by individuals, health related policies enacted by legislative bodies could be another stepping stone in finding solutions to the obesity epidemic. The amount of sugar contained in soda and other readily available drinks is alarming and many of these types of beverages tend to be cheaper than water, making people with a low socioeconomic status more likely to choose the more affordable product. Although such a move locally would probably be an uphill battle against “big soda” who shells out large amounts of money for lobbying, a soda tax could be beneficial to Sacramento and its residents.
The Ecology Center in Berkeley is a nonprofit organization that focuses on health and environmental related issues in urban areas. The organization’s executive director, Martin Bourque, was heavily involved in the Berkeley Soda Tax campaign. Bourque made it clear that fighting against big corporations might be tough, but that it is very possible with the right group of people.
“Our best advice is to build a community coalition as early as possible,” Bourque said. “The coalition needs to stick together, identify the opposition, and hold them responsible for the harm they are causing. Be sure that your coalition includes people from the demographics hardest hit by the diseases associated with sugary beverages. Their families have suffered the most, and their stories touch on our common humanity.”
Sugary beverages can lead not just to diabetes and obesity, but also high blood pressure, heart disease, and other serious, sometimes fatal health issues. Those who are against the tax, would rather consumers focus on other ways to prevent these preventable diseases and think that additional fees should take a backseat to other options.
This November, San Francisco will be the next large city to get a chance to vote on a soda tax with opposition groups digging in for a fight.
“At a time when there are more pressing issues to address in San Francisco, such as crime, cost of living and homelessness, there are higher priorities for local government than regulating our food and beverage choices,” said Joe Arellano, the spokesman for the No SF Grocery Tax. “Our elected leaders should be focused on the issues that matter most to San Francisco residents and businesses, instead of making it harder and more expensive for grocers and small businesses.”
While few would argue that crime, the cost of living, and homelessness are all not important to focus on with legislation, over one-third of the entire population in America is currently living with obesity, making the creation of policies to encourage healthier decisions a real necessity, even though not everybody agrees.
“A tax is the wrong approach to solving the obesity challenge,” says Arellano. “In fact, soda consumption has gone down in recent years, while the rate of obesity has increased. Obesity and diabetes are very complex diseases that can’t be solved by focusing on one food or beverage. Taxes don’t make people healthy, only diet and exercise can do that.”
Even though diet and exercise are crucial to living healthy, many people find that a healthier diet can be more difficult to maintain when it is less affordable, given that soda is a cheaper than many healthier options. While a tax alone may not be able to solve obesity and diabetes by itself, many believe that it is at least starting point. Plus, the tax money in Berkeley from revenues generated by their soda tax has gone to programs to help combat youth obesity and other similar efforts and Sacramento could use a tax in the same way.
“So far, the tax has generated $1.5 million,” Bourque said. “That has been disbursed to Berkeley Unified School District for its gardening and cooking programs, plus a new round of community grants for education focused on those most impacted by big soda marketing.”