Sugary Drink Tax in Berkeley? A Public Health Campaign

Alexander “It is unconscionable if our community knows the facts and does nothing—knows that sugary drinks are having a terrible impact on the health of our children and our families. We must do something about it, ” said Dr. Vicki Alexander in a recent interview.

Dr. Alexander,  retired head of the City of Berkeley Health Department, announced that the NAACP will be campaigning against sugary drinks as one of the causes of a huge increase in diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the African-American community, the Latino community and in the community as a whole. Dr. Alexander spoke at the third annual Berkeley Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast on January 20.

“The US Centers for Disease Control [CDC] is predicting that by the time our 14 year olds reach adulthood, one third of them will develop diabetes. For our African-American and Latino children the numbers are even worse—nearly half of African American and Latino children born in 2000 will develop diabetes within their lifetimes,” Dr. Alexander pointed out in the recent interview.

Sugary sodas and other heavily sugared drinks are major contributors to the problem, Dr. Alexander pointed out. ”One soda a day over one year will add 25 pounds to the average person’s weight; sugar in soda goes straight to the pancreas and has a direct impact on your health. So if you stop drinking that soda and don’t replace it with another sugar-sweetened beverage, you could lose that weight.”

Dr. Alexander is one of the community leaders who has already announced support of a campaign to improve the health of Berkeley children and families—by taxing suppliers of packaged sugary drinks one cent per ounce.

The group plans to speak at the special City Council meeting on

Berkeley city council meeting

Proponents of a soda tax were out in force in neon green at Berkeley City Council, February 11,’14. Photo: Lance Knobel, www.berkeleyside.com

February 11 at 5:30 pm to urge the Council to put a tax on sugary drinks on the ballot.  A group called the Healthy Child Coalition has been circulating a petition, which can be found by emailing:
healthychildcoalition@gmail.com.

Supporters of the tax measure cite the City of Berkeley’s 2013 Health Status Report which points out that 29% of BUSD students are overweight or obese and that 40% of 9th graders are overweight and that the percentage is higher of African American and Latino students. Supporters say that scientific studies show that sugary drinks are an important contributor to the growing rates of diabetes, heart attacks and dental cavities. Dr. Jeffrey Ritterman, one of the supporters of the unsuccessful effort to pass a similar tax in Richmond, made the same point in his talk to the League last March.  Click to read a short article about his talk and the slides of his talk which includes many references to the scientific research.

Nancy Bickel

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