By Sarah Mittermaier
May 1, 2013
American children today grow up in a world profoundly shaped by junk-food marketing. Unhealthy messages bombard kids on their cell phones and computer games, in billboards and on TV. The beverage industry alone spends $948 million a year targeting our kids with ads for sodas and other sugar-laced drinks.
In this marketing-saturated environment, the very concept of ‘choice’ is seriously challenged. Parents don’t choose what’s marketed to their kids, and they don’t choose what’s stocked on food store shelves. Even the most vigilant parents cannot shield her children 24 hours a day in classrooms, grocery aisles or baseball diamonds.
Do children choose junk foods--or do junk foods choose our children, seducing them with advertising and manipulating their cravings with products engineered to be overconsumed?
Beverage company spokespeople love to say that it's up to parents to moderate their kids’ sugary drink consumption. But that argument doesn't explain why companies go to such great lengths to reach our children in manipulative ways. Companies spend hundreds of millions marketing to our kids for one reason: It works.
Junk food marketing and children’s health are tightly bound, and over the past few decades, beverage companies have gotten richer as the rest of us got sicker. Across the country, health advocates are pushing for smart policies to improve health and protect children from predatory marketing practices. Numerous states and locales have proposed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as a way to help stem the tide of chronic disease and fund prevention efforts. Now California may become the first state in the nation to pass a statewide sugar-sweetened beverage tax that invests new tax revenues in children’s health initiatives.
Senate Bill 622 proposes a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and the creation of a Children’s Health Promotion Fund with the proceeds. A penny-per-ounce tax is a modest proposal, but it’s a bold step in the right direction. Raising taxes on sugary drinks points to the true cost these products exact on the health of Californians. In 2012, voters in two California cities considered similar taxes. Rather than letting these communities decide for themselves how to support the health of their residents, the beverage industry poured nearly $4 million into Richmond and El Monte to defeat these ballot measures.
Despite these recent disappointments, I am more confident than ever that public opinion is shifting and that beverage industry lobbying dollars will not always be able to buy elections. The momentum for change is shifting under the feet of beverage companies.
In a recent Field poll, 68% of California voters (including 79% of Latinos and 70% of African Americans) said they would support taxing sugar-sweetened beverages if the proceeds funded increased physical activity and improved nutrition in schools.
Revenue generated by this tax would support children’s health initiatives with $1.7 billion in its first year alone. That means more physical education programs during the school day, healthier school meals, more places for kids to play and be physically active, and funding for public health campaigns.
This proposal wraps two smart policies into one package: The tax will save lives and money by discouraging sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. The revenues will create healthier places for California’s kids to live, learn and play.
MAY 2: NEWS FLASH! After we posted this blog yesterday, we learned that the Senate Health Committee passed SB 622. This victory is no small feat--this is the first time a sugar-sweetened beverage tax has ever cleared two committees. SB 622 now heads to the Appropriations Committee, where it will need strong support from advocates to reach the Senate floor.
Photo credit (for CA State Capitol): Franco Folini
May 14: SB 622 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, May 20, at 10:00am.