We can all agree that sugary drinks have no nutritional benefits. Let’s get them out of our diets and invest into our community instead.
DESPITE strong evidence linking overconsumption of sugar to serious health conditions, sugary drinks retain a devastating grip on America. A recent CDC report reveals that nearly two-thirds of children in the United States reported consuming at least one soda or other sugary drink, such as sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sweetened teas, on any given day.
Sugary drinks are closely linked to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dental cavities. It’s important to know how they affect whole families. I see too many young people disconnected from generational ties because aunts, uncles, grandparents and parents have lost their lives to these diseases. And, sadly, pediatricians like me are seeing these conditions begin at younger and younger ages.
These days I see more and more children with Type 2 Diabetes, on medication for high blood pressure, and struggling with high cholesterol. In my two decades practicing medicine I have seen the emergence of new conditions related to sugar intake and obesity, causing fat to infiltrate and damage livers. Sugary drinks contribute to the earlier onset of lifelong or life-shortening disease. This is true in every sector, but especially in low income and communities of color. This means curtailing the full potential of a young person; it means these diseases progress to greater severity; it means decades of health disability; it means soaring health-care costs. There are a new set of health threats for kids, all in the course of a brief generation. When I was in medical school, these conditions didn’t exist in children!
Recently many places have chosen to adopt taxes on sugary drinks, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and Boulder. Now the Seattle City Council is considering a two-cent per ounce tax on drinks sweetened with added sugar, including energy drinks, sodas, fruit drinks, sweetened teas and ready-to-drink coffee beverages. Revenue from this tax will be invested in efforts to address health and educational disparities for our city’s children.
From a health standpoint, implementing sugary-drink taxes works. Consumption goes down. A recent study found that soda sales in Berkeley dropped by 21 percent in low-income neighborhoods during the first four months of implementation. The country of Mexico is also seeing success from implementing a one peso per liter tax since 2014. In two years, they found a 7.6 percent reduction in the purchase of taxed beverages and a 2.1 percent increase in purchases of untaxed drinks.
We can both help reduce sugary-drink consumption and reinvest tax revenues in communities. Seattle’s proposed sugary-drink tax revenue would increase funding for the “Fresh Bucks” program, providing greater access to fresh produce for families relying on SNAP/EBT (food stamps) and helping children and adults eat a balanced diet and improve their health.
The tax would also raise funding to reduce educational disparities between white and African-American students and other historically underrepresented students of color, including funding for birth-to-five programs. And I know as a pediatrician that one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health is a good education. According to the CDC, having a safe place to live and better education leads to higher earnings and improved access to healthy foods and health care.
We can all agree that sugary drinks have no nutritional benefits. Let’s get them out of our diets and invest into our community instead. Let’s invest in the future of Seattle’s children.