OP-ED: Vote Yes on the Measure D Soda Tax

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By Vicki Alexander

Vicki Alexander
Vicki Alexander

Just last week the nephew of my housemate died of complications from diabetes. He was just 29 years old. He was an avid soda drinker.

For all of us in Berkeley, especially those of us who are African-American, please say Yes to Measure D on the November ballot.

I am a retired Director of Maternal Child and Adolescent Health in Berkeley. I was also the Health Officer for the City and was responsible for bringing the Black Infant Health Program to Berkeley, a program to address the inequity in infant outcomes.

Currently, I co-chair the Healthy Child Coalition that has worked to bring Measure D, the Soda Tax, to the voters.

This one-cent per ounce tax will be placed on the distributors of sugar sweetened beverages in Berkeley. Also written into Measure D is the creation of a panel of experts, people with extensive background in community and child nutrition, healthcare and education, who will make recommendations to City Council about funding programs that improve children’s health across Berkeley.

This panel, together with a broad based community coalition will keep our elected officials accountable to make sure the funds from this tax are used appropriately.

Nearly every African-American family in Berkeley has been touched by the ravishes of diabetes. We face an urgent and preventable health crisis and action is needed now.

The death of my housemate’s nephew is an example of a preventable death. It is an example of the outlandish inequity in our health system, including right here in Berkeley.

Diabetes is on the rise, especially in African-American communities, and especially amongst our youth. Nationally, 1 in 3 of all children are projected to get Type 2 Diabetes in their lifetimes, a figure that rises to 1 in 2 for African-American and Latino children.

Additionally, African-Americans in Berkeley are 4 times more likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes and 14 times more likely to be hospitalized than non-Hispanic whites.

Over the last 10 to 20 years data from local, state, national and international level sources have shown that there have been increasing kinds and amounts of sugar sweetened beverages, which has led to an increase in consumption.

In this country, this increase in consumption has been the steepest among African-American and Latino youth. In fact, the beverage industry has aimed much of their advertising to our kids. The incidence of diabetes has increased over this same span of time. There is something we can and must do about this epidemic.

The multi-billion dollar sugary drink industry pretends to be concerned about the pocketbooks of low-income families. However, they refuse to speak to the health consequences and medical cost that their product plays a unique role in perpetuating.

The Big Soda billionaires want to confuse consumers that the Soda tax is a choice issue. However, facts speak for themselves.

The alarming diabetes crisis disproportionately affects the African American community. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, African Americans with diabetes have 3 times the number of lower limb amputations, 5 times the amount of kidney disease, and 50 times the rate of blindness. There is something we can and must do about this health inequity. Pass Measure D.

We as parents also must try to make sure our children are healthy. But, with the level of advertising in this electronic era, parents don’t stand a chance.

Our children are inundated in our absence with advertising, games, and movie stars that push potentially deadly sugar sweetened beverages.

I support Measure D because it takes this fight to its source. Taxing soda, just like we tax cigarettes, makes sense. We can prevent this crisis.

Please join me in supporting Measure D and Berkeley vs. Big Soda. VOTE YES on Measure D.

Vicki Alexander, MD, MPH, is co-chair of the “YES on Measure D” campaign committee.

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