Majority of voters back soda tax to fight obesity

April 20, 2010

A majority of Californians would support a “small” tax on sweetened soda as a way to fight obesity, according to a Field Poll survey sponsored by a public health advocacy group.

The poll found that 56 percent would support such a tax, with 43 percent opposed. The margin of error in the survey of 503 registered voters was 4.5 percent in either direction.

The survey found support highest for a tax in Los Angeles (61 percent in favor) and the Bay Area, where support was 60 percent. In San Diego, Orange and other Southern California counties, support was at 54 percent.

The only region of the state where less than a majority supported the tax was the Central Valley, where only 43 percent said they were in favor of it. The Central Valley is also the region with the highest rates of soda consumption in California, according to earlier studies.

Although low-income people tend to drink more soda and are more at risk for obesity, 60 percent of voters in families making less than $40,000 per year said they would support it. Among Latinos, another high-risk group, support was at 66 percent.

“Californians are deeply concerned about the health of children and are ready to take concrete steps to halt the obesity crisis in our state,” Harold Goldstein, director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which commissioned the poll, said in a statement. “They not only have specific ideas of what will make a difference, but are ready to support legislation to make that happen.”

The center is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1210, by Sen. Dean Florez, which would add a tax of one penny per teaspoon of added sugar or high fructose corn syrup in soda. The tax would add an estimated ten cents to the cost of a can of soda and would raise $1.5 billion for childhood obesity prevention programs.

A study last year by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that 41 percent of children, 62 percent of adolescents and 24 percent of adults drink at least one soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage every day. Regardless of income or ethnicity, adults who drink one or more sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages every day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, according to the researchers.

Still, the poll released Tuesday found that Californians, as they are on so many issues, are more supportive of increasing funding to fight obesity than they are in raising a tax to finance that spending.

The survey found that 84 percent support providing healthier food in public schools, 84 percent backed providing more active physical education programs, 82 percent support ensuring all schools have clean drinking water, and 74 percent support subsidizing health insurance for children whose families cannot afford it. Sixty-four percent support improving local parks and building more bike and walking paths.

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