Op-Ed: Sugary Drinks are a Social Justice Issue

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By Arnold Perkins

 

One in two African American and Latino children are predicted to get type 2 diabetes in their lifetime (compared to one in three children overall). 

Type 2 diabetes used to be a disease of our grandparents, not our grandchildren. Diabetes does not impact everyone equally in Alameda County: if you are low-income you are at twice the risk of developing diabetes compared to those with higher incomes.

 

The evidence is clear: consumption of sugary drinks increases risk of diabetes and is linked to heart and liver disease and tooth decay, the most common chronic disease among children.

 

This November, we have the power to take a positive step to combat this health crisis by taxing sugary drinks and using the funds raised to fund health programs to address the devastating effects of soda – similarly to how we have taxed tobacco.

 

Measure HH in Oakland and Measure V in San Francisco are small, penny-per-ounce excise tax on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

These measures, like the successful measure in Berkeley, has brought a barrage of protests from the manufacturers and distributors of sugary drinks. Big Soda has spent millions to spread blatant lies – saying that it’s a grocery tax. It’s not.

 

They are creating a false narrative that is meant to cause fear and confuse voters. We tell our children not to tell lies, yet Big Soda continues to deceive even after the courts declared Measures HH and V are a tax on soda not groceries.

 

Big Soda also says it’s a matter of personal choice to drink their products, but is it really? The industry fails to disclose that they are aggressively marketing in the same communities that have the highest rates of diabetes.

 

In 2013 alone, beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise unhealthy drinks, targeting youth and bypassing parents entirely. A recent study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that African American children and teens viewed 80-90 percent more sugary drink TV advertising than their white peers.

 

Big Soda also says this tax will harm poor people. The truth is that this is a tax on some of the wealthiest corporations in America, who, like the tobacco industry, claim no responsibility for the health problems associated with their products.

 

What the industry ignores is the unjust costs of diabetes and other chronic diseases, both the financial cost and the human toll that truly affect poor and communities of color the most.

 

Measure HH is estimated to raise 6 to 8 million dollars per year. The funds can be invested in communities to promote health and prevent diet related chronic diseases, especially in the communities that are most impacted.

 

Accountability is written into the measure and creates a community advisory board with representatives from areas disproportionately affected by chronic diseases; the board will recommend to the city council how funds should be spent.
This is a positive solution to turn our truly sobering diabetes rates around and it’s supported by over 150 health, faith and community-based organizations, city leaders and individual endorsers.

 

It’s up to us, my fellow Bay Area residents, to not let Big Soda dictate the future of our health and to vote YES on Measure HH in Oakland and Measure V in San Francisco.

 

Arnold Perkins serves on the board of directors of the California Wellness Foundation and was director of the Alameda County Public Health Department from 1994 to 2006. His views and opinions do not reflect those of his organizational affiliations or the Post News Group.”

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