Soda Tax Ballot Measures Will Help Prevent Diabetes and Obesity

October 24, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health 

By Arthur M. Chen, M.D., President of the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association, and Richard Podolin, M.D., President of the San Francisco Medical Society

Think diabetes and obesity aren’t serious health care issues? Think again.

A majority of California adults now have diabetes or prediabetes, a precursor to the life-threatening Type 2 diabetes. Nine percent of California adults already know they have diabetes; however, shocking UCLA research showed 46 percent of adults in the Golden State (13 million) don’t know they already have diabetes or prediabetes. Unfortunately, our children are no exception: one in three born after 2000 — including half of Latino and African-American children — are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime.

And while California has the fifth lowest adult obesity rate in the U.S., the disease is on the rise. Our current rate is 24.2 percent, up from 9.9 percent in 1990! And it’s even worse for our state’s children with 30.5 percent classified as overweight or obese.

Diabetes can lead to increased risk of amputation, nerve damage, blindness, kidney disease, heart disease and premature death. Obesity also leads to serious health problems like heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and cancer.

Every day, doctors witness how both diseases limit their patients’ full potential and quality of life. The diseases also cost California billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and health care costs, putting further strain on our public health system.

That’s why the California Medical Association (CMA) endorsed three Bay Area ballot propositions aimed at reducing sugar intake to prevent diabetes and obesity:

  • Measure V in San Francisco (Tax on Distributing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages) proposes a 1-cent per ounce tax that is estimated to generate $14.4 million/year.
  • Measure HH in Oakland (Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax) proposes a 1-cent per ounce tax that is estimated to generate $6–8 million/year.
  • Measure 01 in Albany (Sugar-Sweetened Beverage General Tax) proposes a 1-cent per ounce tax that is estimated to generate at least $223,000/year.

Why Target Sugar-Sweetened Beverages?

Sugary drinks are the biggest contributor (43 percent) of added calories in the American diet. The American Heart Association recommends no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day, but a single 20-ounce bottle of soda contains approximately 16 teaspoons of sugar. Drinking just one soda a day increases a child’s likelihood of being overweight by 55 percent and an adult’s by 27 percent. And up to two sodas a day increase the risk of diabetes by 26 percent.

Additionally, the harmful effects of sugar-sweetened beverage disproportionately affect low income and minority segments of our population. This is a major cause of the health care disparity in our society.

These ballot measures are sound policy will help break the cycle of diabetes and obesity in our communities. Taxing sweetened beverages 1-cent per ounce would reduce obesity rates by five percent and cut medical costs by $17 billion within a decade, according to a report by the American Medical Association.

Big Soda Steals Political Playbook from Tobacco, Alcohol


Naysayers may question the efficacy of such measures, but the city of Berkeley (who passed the nation’s first soda tax in 2014) has experienced a 21 percent decrease in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages since implementation.

And soda companies are clearly nervous about the passage of Measures V, HH and O1.

An analysis of public records found that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo gave millions to health groups while simultaneously investing millions towards defeating legislation that would reduce our soda intake. The American Beverage Association also spent $10.6 million to axe a similar measure in Philadelphia earlier this year and failed — despite outspending supporters 5-to-1.

Closer to home, the American Beverage Association has invested $14 million into deceptive ads against Measure V, HH and 01, falsely labeling it as a grocery tax.

Don’t be fooled. Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages will help educate the public on the link between sugary drinks and chronic illnesses, reduce consumption and support community health programs. Vote YES on Measure V, HH and 01.


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