Guzzling of sweetened sodas fattens state health care costs 

The opinion piece by K. Lloyd Billingsley of the Pacific Research Institute in the March 16 San Francisco Examiner challenged the state of California’s capacity to tackle obesity due to our recent budget deficits. Billingsley labeled a measure I am authoring, Assembly Bill 669, as a sweetened soda tax that was a “shameless end run around budget cuts.” The truth of the matter is that sugary drinks are the leading contributor to current obesity trends and we are all paying the price.  

AB 669 would place a penny per fluid ounce tax on sweetened beverages to fund childhood obesity prevention strategies. Californians are already paying for adult obesity related expenses which would be alleviated if the state had childhood obesity prevention programs and activities such as physical education and healthful school lunches. Billingsley uses a very polarizing argument that California — the eighth largest economy in the world — spends too much on government in order to sway public opinion. Please consider the facts before concluding “California government is not qualified to hand out dietary advice.”

As a State Assembly member, I am well aware of the difficult decisions that need to be made in order to bring California’s fiscal house in order. However, if we continue to ignore the fact that sugary drinks are the leading contributor to obesity, then the obesity crisis among children will be tomorrow’s surge of chronically-ill adults. The costs to treat and manage these diseases will climb to unfathomable heights, which we will all shoulder.

In 2006, overweight and obesity-related costs in California were estimated at almost $21 billion. Being overweight and obese significantly increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other preventable chronic conditions. If, however, California is able to achieve a modest reduction in the prevalence of overweight and obesity of just 5 percent per year for each risk factor, the savings realized would average nearly $2.4 billion per year.

The opponents contend that this new tax would have no effect on obesity. Yet, there have been many articles published in peer-reviewed health journals that give merit to taxing sweetened beverages.

Revenue from a sweetened beverage tax would be directed to the California Children’s Health Promotion Fund and used exclusively to combat childhood obesity by providing resources to local schools and community-based nutrition and wellness programs statewide.

Assemblyman Bill Monning is chair of the Assembly Committee on Health and represents the 27th Assembly District, which includes portions of Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties.

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