The Washington Legislature should enact a law that would tax sugar-sweetened beverages, write these guest columnists and health-care professionals. Childhood obesity has increased dramatically and can be linked to the increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
THE health of Washington’s children is in danger.
Here in Washington, a quarter of our kids in middle and high school are overweight or obese and that figure is growing. A major factor: 20 percent of their daily calorie consumption comes from sugar-sweetened beverages. Scientific studies have consistently shown that children who drink two or more sodas a day are more likely to be overweight than those who have access to healthier alternatives.
Each year we are treating more children who have preventable illnesses. Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol are no longer just problems for adults. Current data shows that this generation of children has a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This fact alone should set in motion action to reverse this epidemic of obesity.
Sadly, the rate of childhood obesity in our state continues to grow. But at the same time, vital services for our children — basic health care, nutrition and health-related educational programs — are being cut. These programs save taxpayers money by providing nutrition education, preventing disease and reducing the need for more expensive and time-consuming treatment.
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But we can change this. Right now, two promising strategies are being considered in our state capital. One, the elimination of a sales-tax exemption on candy, would provide an additional $44 million per year in new revenue. A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could reduce the current budget shortfall by generating a significant amount of money (about $315 million per year).
A penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would improve the quality of life in our communities twofold: First, it would ensure funding for public health programs, community health clinics and basic health care for people without insurance. Second, lowering consumption of unhealthy sugar-sweetened drinks would encourage production, distribution and consumption of healthier alternatives.
As health-care professionals, we will work tirelessly to prevent illness and treat disease. Whether treating patients or working to build a healthier community, we have seen how the dramatic increase in soda consumption by Washington’s children over the past 20 years has lowered their quality of life.
We can take action now to stop the epidemic of obesity by making the healthy choice the easier choice.
Rather than cutting essential health-care services and struggling to pay for others, our state lawmakers should pass common-sense and health-promoting tax policy — to add a penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages and extend the sales tax to candy, gum and baked goods. Not only does this raise revenue but it also provides a real opportunity to help increase an entire generation’s life expectancy and give our children a better tomorrow.
Our future depends on it.
David Fleming, M.D., is director and health officer of Public Health-Seattle & King County. Benjamin Danielson, M.D., is vice president of the Children’s Alliance board. Lenna L. Liu, M.D., is pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.