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Berkeley’s Soda Tax: Turning the Tides on Big Soda

victory yes on d cover photoIn case you missed it last week (and in the Bay Area, you would have to be living under a rock to miss it), Berkeley’s soda tax passed (Measure D) with a whopping 75% of the vote. A HUGE victory for the public health world, and helping the City of Berkeley continue to pursue a healthier community. Thanks to the Berkeley vs. Big Soda team for being an amazing group of colleagues to work with.

I wrote two blog posts – a before and after, if you will – for JSI’s blog, The Pump. Read them at the links below:

“In California, a tax on sugary drinks is the first step in the fight against obesity” (11/3/14)

“Berkeley Passes the Nation’s First Soda Tax” (11/5/14)

Thanks for reading!

Upcoming Event: Berkeley Soda Series

sodaseriesIn an effort to raise awareness about the health and environmental impacts of soda and other sugary drinks, the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition and several other local organizations are hosting Soda: The Series from September 4th through October 9th. The series of community events will include Berkeley leaders alongside speakers such as Dr. Robert Lustig (a renowned UCSF researcher on sugar), Raj Patel (award-winning writer, activist, and academic), and Anna Lappé (author and director of Small Planet Institute) discussing the science of sugary drinks, tactics of the soda industry, and disease prevention efforts. These events take place in the run-up to the November election, when Berkeley will vote on Measure D, a tax on sugary drinks.

Visit for more information and to download the flyer!


Fighting Big Soda in Berkeley

My blogging always falls off the radar when I’m busy. But, this time, I have a good reason – I’m volunteering with the Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign to pass a tax on sugary drinks in the city of Berkeley, California.


Sugary drinks – like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and even juices with added sugar – have repeatedly been linked to increase risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. Yet, the beverage industry (aka Big Soda) relentlessly markets these unhealthy drinks despite their harmful health effects. Deceptive marketing most often targets kids and communities of color. As a public health advocate, I truly believe that we need strong policy approaches to address the chronic diseases caused by sugary drinks – educational campaigns on the topic just aren’t sufficient to reduce soda consumption when people are inundated with Big Soda’s targeted marketing.

Berkeley is proposing a tax on distributors of sugary drinks to tell Big Soda that we won’t let them profit at the expense of our community’s health any longer. Revenue from the tax could be used to fund community- and school-based obesity prevention programs. We also hope that by raising awareness of the issue of soda-related diseases, Berkeley’s families and residents will rethink their beverage choices and sugary drink consumption will decline over time.

I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on social media to learn what we’re all about:

If you happen to be a local reader, please volunteer and donate. The decision on the ballot measure will be finalized at the Berkeley City Council meeting on June 24th. Let’s make Berkeley the first city in the U.S. to pass a tax on sugary drinks!

UPDATE: As of July 1st, the Berkeley soda tax (now known as Measure D) is officially on the November ballot!

July 1 tweet

Food Policy News: Week of March 27

  • The USDA recently conducted a study of SNAP-based incentive programs, those which increase the value of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets through matching funds or another mechanism. The goal of the Farmers Market Incentive Provider Study was to explore who is funding, operating, and supporting these programs in communities across the US. Wholesome Wave provided a nice summary of the findings, largely from a series of interviews, demonstrating that these programs rely heavily on steady funding streams and partnerships with community organizations to sustain them. [USDA Economic Research Service]
  • Early evidence suggests that Mexicans are drinking less sugary drinks in the wake of the country’s recent soda tax, which took effect in January. In response to the peso-per-liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, beverage companies like Coca-Cola have passed the tax burden down to consumers by raising prices. Beverage sales are predicted to fall by 6-7 percent as a result. [Bloomberg]
  • A recent community poll in Berkeley, CA demonstrated community support for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – 66% of voters surveyed would support a penny-per-ounce tax if revenue went into the city’s general fund, and 64% would support a tax if the funding were devoted to nutrition and other community programs. The UC Berkeley student government also recently passed a tax on sugary drinks on campus to raise revenue for the student health center. [Berkeleyside]
  • The country of Denmark was able to eliminate salmonella in raw chicken by taking an upstream approach to food safety and adopting a “zero tolerance” policy. Human illness from salmonella is a huge problem in the United States, but taking a similar approach to Denmark isn’t feasible given the sheer size of our poultry industry (we processed 8.5 billion chickens in 2013), and the fractured nature of our food safety and inspection systems. A food safety overhaul in the U.S. is long overdue – but, in the meantime, I’d steer clear of chicken. [Food Safety News, Food Politics]

Hot Issues: Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

In the U.S., the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, sweetened juices, etc.) has steadily risen over the past 30 years, strongly correlated with obesity rates. Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are now the most significant contributor to one’s daily caloric intake, and have a recognized negative impact on health. Regular soft drink consumption has been directly linked with increased body weight, as well as increased risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome, even among those who consumed just one soft drink per day.

First, some statistics to set the stage:

  • Adults consume an average of 265-293 calories’ worth of SSBs on a daily basis, while adolescents consume an average of 104-269 calories from SSBs per day. [1]
  • A whopping 96% of beverage marketing and advertising is targeted directly at children and adolescents. [2]
  • “For each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child’s becoming obese increases by 60%.” [2]
Increased consumption of SSBs has prompted 34 states to impose sales taxes or place restrictions on their sale. Unfortunately, the current taxes are modest, averaging 5.2%, and sales restrictions are generally limited to schools; as a result, these policies have not had the intended effect of reduced SSB consumption among the general population. What are some other options that states can pursue to reduce SSB consumption and therefore obesity?
       Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the most popular options, suggested by food policy experts like Kelly Brownell (director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity) and Michael Pollan.  Current sales taxes have shown a limited impact on consumption habits, largely because consumers have already made the decision to purchase SSBs when the tax is applied at the register. Instead, an excise tax imposed on SSB manufacturers would result in increased prices for consumers, which may deter them from purchasing them altogether. Analysts from the Rudd Center and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have estimated that the impact of a 1 cent per ounce excise tax would result in $14.9 billion in revenue raised* – which could used to fund public health and obesity prevention programs [1, 3]. This revenue could also be used to recoup some of the costs of obesity to our health care system, which amounted to $147 billion dollars in 2008.
       There are many barriers to SSB taxation, including lack of public support, the interests of the beverage industry, and logistical issues in determining appropriate ways of taxing beverages. But, the potential benefits – improved health among the population and increased revenue for states – build a strong argument for taxation as a step towards solving the nation’s obesity epidemic. Of course, taxation isn’t a “cure” for obesity and would need to be combined with other efforts in order to make a significant impact.  What do you think? Is taxation a step in the right direction?

*this amount was calculated assuming some reduction in consumption

[1] Pomeranz JL. “Advanced policy options to regulate sugar-sweetened beverages to support public health.” Journal of Public Health Policy, 25 August 2011. [epub ahead of print]

[2] Brownell KD, Frieden TR. Ounces of Prevention – The Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages. New England Journal of Medicine. 2009; 360(18):1805-1808.

[3]  Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. Soft Drink Taxes: A Policy Brief. Fall 2009. Available from:

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