Almost 60 percent of California adolescents drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day, and nearly half eat fast food at least twice a week. And the more fast food or convenience store options they have near them compared to grocery stores, the more likely they are to drink soda and eat junk food, according to a new policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Studies. The report creates a Retail Food Environment Index to rank counties on the density of fast food versus healthy food options, and lists the results by county. Nevada County has the healthiest retail food mix while Sutter County has the least healthy selection of food outlets. Among more populous counties, Sacramento ranks at the bottom when it comes to providing healthy choices. See the policy brief here.
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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.
Modest additional taxes on sweetened soft drinks don’t do much to curb consumption or child obesity, according to a study released today. But more significant levies targeting soda might have more impact.
The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, could find no significant connection between soda consumption or weight gain among children and special taxes on soda. The taxes in the study averaged 3.5 percent, and none were larger than 7 percent.“If the goal is to noticeably reduce soda consumption among children, then it would have to be a very substantial tax” said Roland Sturm, the study’s lead author and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “A small sales tax on soda does not appear to lead to a noticeable drop in consumption, led alone reduction in obesity.”
New soda taxes have been proposed in California and elsewhere. Democrats in Congress considered the idea as a way to finance an expansion of health insurance for the poor but dropped the proposal in the face of opposition from the beverage industry.
In California, Senate Bill 1210 would slap a tax of 1 cent for every added teaspoon of sugar in sweetened drinks. A 12-ounce can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. A ten-cent tax on that can would be as much as 25 percent, even at a discount grocery store.
In the study, researchers estimated the potential effect of taxes by looking at the differences in existing sales taxes among the states and then comparing those levels to information about weight and soda consumption among 7,300 children.
Although children at higher risk for obesity — those who were heavier, children from low-income families, African-American children and those who watched a lot of television — drank more soda than children in general, they also were among those whose soda-drinking habits were most sensitive to higher taxes. The impact was greatest for children from these groups who could buy soda at school.
The most effective kind of soda tax, the researchers said, would be an excise tax that would increase the price of soda on the grocery store shelf. Sales taxes collected at the cash register have less effect because consumers don’t connect the tax to the particular product.
An 18 percent soda tax proposed and then dropped from New York’s Executive Budget last year could help prevent excessive weight gain between third and fifth grades by 20 percent, the researchers said.
UPDATED at 4:27 pm.
California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has introduced legislation to tax sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages to fund childhood obesity programs.
The bill would levy a penny tax for every teaspoon of added sugar in commercial beverages sold. Florez estimates that the excise tax on beverage distributors would raise $1.5 billion annually. The money would go to California cities and schools to pay for childhood obesity prevention programs.
“I don’t want obesity to be the legacy that we leave to our children,” Sen. Florez said at a press conference. “With the revenues raised from this bill, we can support schools and build communities where children are active, eating healthier foods and putting the threat of obesity and related diseases like diabetes behind them.”
Florez said he was prompted the introduce the bill by what he called a “growing body of research’ highlighting the central role of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages in promoting obesity.
Skeptics have said the connection between soda and obesity has not been proven despite a number of studies testing that hypothesis. But research released last year by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that adults in California who drank a soda or more a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese. Californians consume 50 gallons of soda a year containing the equivalent of 39 pounds of sugar.
“If we’re going to make any headway in addressing the obesity epidemic, we have to start with the biggest culprit, and that’s clearly soda,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein, director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said in a written statement. “Soda is the one specific product for which we have overwhelming evidence of its direct link to obesity.”
Goldstein said it is expected that one-third of children born in 2000 will have diabetes sometime in their lives, including 50 percent for Latino and African American children.
Photo by Marlith.