My KQED colleague Mina Kim produced a great piece examining whether higher soda prices leads to weight loss -- and the health benefits that come with it. She profiled a 17-year-old football player from Tracy -- Jorge Cota, who at 5'11" weighed 321 pounds. He had high blood pressure and may have had heart and kidney problems. That was a year ago.
While Cota since has made many diet changes, the first thing he did was cut out his drink of choice, Dr. Pepper. He had been drinking two or three cans or bottles a day.
He's since lost 70 pounds, Kim reports.
On MacDonald Avenue, the city of Richmond’s main drag, Jeff Ritterman is pulling a little red wagon that holds a plastic water cooler jug filled with forty pounds of sugar. Ritterman says that's the average amount a child in Richmond consumes each year, just from drinking sodas. "The child gets overweight," he says, "and the arteries of the heart fill up with bad fat. And that’s a real health problem."
Ritterman is a retired cardiologist who likes to wear his graying hair in a ponytail. He’s also a city councilman and the man behind a November ballot measure that would make Richmond one of the first cities in the nation to impose a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks.
The people of Richmond will decide in November whether businesses should have to pay a fee for every ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks they sell. In other words, a soda tax is on the ballot November 6th. If voters approve the measure, Richmond would be the first city in California to impose such a fee.
"The city of Richmond has the opportunity to make history," Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy told me today, adding that the campaign will be closely watched nationally. "Cities and states will be watching this across the country. ... They too want to put a small tax on sugary drinks and use those funds to mitigate the harmful effects that all these sugary drinks are causing."
We've seen it with tobacco. As taxes went up, use went down. Public health advocates have been salivating over the prospect of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to give them a similar foothold in the obesity epidemic and the myriad health problems excess weight causes. But hard evidence on the health effects of such a tax has been limited.
The East Bay Express chose one heckuva startling headline for its article examining the fight over Measure N -- Richmond's penny-per-ounce tax on soda and sugar sweetened beverages that was defeated last November. "Race Baiting in Richmond" alleges that big business used race to fracture Richmond's progressive community in its ultimately successful campaign to defeat the tax.
Earlier this week, KQED's Mina Kim looked at the ongoing soda tax campaign in Richmond. In November, voters will decide whether to impose a penny an ounce fee on sweetened drinks. Today, William Harless at California Watch drilled down into newly released campaign finance disclosures and learned that -- not surprisingly -- tax opponents are outspending tax supporters.
What might be somewhat more surprising is that the margin is 10 to 1. Harless reports that the American Beverage Association, based in Washington and representing Coca Cola, PepsiCo et. a. has spent $150,000 since June. (Note that the City Council voted to put the tax on the ballot on May 15.)
Last night the Richmond City Council voted to let the people decide. The Council instructed staff to prepare a ballot measure for next November to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, what most people call a "soda tax."
Richmond voters may have the chance to make their city the first in California, and one of the first in the country, to slap a special tax not just on sodas, but also sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and the like