Richmond has had the national spotlight for the last few weeks, and for good reason. The City, later joined by El Monte in Southern California, was the first in the nation to place on the ballot a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. While both measures failed, they did mark an important milestone in the fight against childhood obesity: singling out sugar-sweetened beverages as particularly harmful for children.

Today, children consume nearly twice as many calories from sugary drinks – juice, soda, sports drinks, flavored milk – than they did 30 years ago. What’s also doubled in the last 30 years? The number of overweight preschoolers in the U.S.

While there are many causes for childhood obesity, studies are showing that reducing or eliminating children’s consumption of sugary beverages has the greatest potential for lowering obesity rates.

Sugary beverages are the number one source of added sugar in children’s diets. American children, on average, ingest 40 pounds of sugar each year. Sugar in liquid form is more easily and quickly absorbed by the body. Sugar-sweetened beverages have been definitively linked to obesity, poor health, and tooth decay. In fact, a child’s odds of becoming obese increases by 60% with just one additional sugary drink per day. These children face an increasing likelihood of later health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes or heart disease.

Soda Free Summer’s collection of “No on N” materials

The beverage industry spent $2.5 million to defeat the tax in Richmond. That’s a lot of money for a single city’s initiative, but it pales in comparison to the billions the industry spends every year marketing their products to our children – our young children and especially our African American and Latino children (children with the highest rates of obesity). A study by Yale’s Rudd Center found that African American children see about 80% more ads for soda than white children.

Congratulations to Richmond and El Monte for taking a stand to protect our children. The measures may have failed, but the opportunity they created for dialogue and debate has raised national awareness of the crisis. Locally, San Pablo may be next to propose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. No doubt other cities and states are considering it as well. They have to: the facts remain.

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