Politicians Pinch the Straw to Lighten California's Obesity Crisis

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Obesity News
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DAVIS, Calif., June 22 Five different bills are moving through the state legislature this month aimed at addressing the state's skyrocketing obesity numbers. Ironically, none of these bills address what you eat but instead what you drink.

"At their peril, most Americans have focused almost exclusively on foods and ignored the hefty serving of calories and sugar they consume through beverages," says California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) Executive Director Dr. Harold Goldstein. "When you realize that the average Californian drinks some 50 gallons of sweetened beverages and gulps down about 39 pounds of sugar every year, it's clear that any smart strategy to reduce our obesity problem has to also look at soda and sweetened beverage consumption."

Perhaps the best known of the current bevy of beverage bills is the soda tax, with two separate versions being considered. Authored by Senator Dean Florez (D-Fresno) and sponsored by CCPHA, SB 1210 would levy a penny for every teaspoon of sugar in a beverage to fund childhood obesity prevention programs. Assemblyman Joe Coto's (D-San Jose) AB 2100 would do the same but allocate the funds to schools to pay for nurses and health educators.

Protecting preschoolers has also risen to the forefront with AB 2084, authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) and sponsored by CCPHA and California Food Policy Advocates. Recognizing that nearly a quarter of California's 2- to 5-year-olds are overweight or obese, the legislation aims to strengthen nutrition guidelines for the beverages served in childcare, an especially important consideration since a third of preschoolers are drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage or more a day.

Gatorade and other electrolyte replacement beverages, which were exempted from earlier statewide laws regulating beverages sold at schools, are under renewed scrutiny. According to UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health, for most children in sports, water is the best way to rehydrate without delivering unnecessary added sugars and calories. Recognizing this, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) introduced SB 1255 to remove electrolyte replacement beverages from the list of beverages that may be sold on school campuses. Finally, SB 1413 introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to require fresh, clean drinking water in all schools during meal times is moving through the legislative process. Both of these bills are sponsored by the Governor.

"Soda and other sweetened beverages have added an extra 175 calories a day to the average American's diet. They have been the single greatest contributor to the obesity epidemic and a major contributor to rising diabetes rates," explains Dr. Goldstein. "Clearly, savvy legislators and the Governor understand this link, and all these beverage-related policies address that reality."

As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the health of Californians, CCPHA has played a major role in uncovering the role soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages play in the obesity epidemic. Last year, the organization with the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released "Bubbling Over," a statewide analysis of soda consumption in the state and its link to California's $41 billion obesity epidemic. Among other findings, the study pointed out that these beverages are the primary source of sugar in the U.S. diet. For more information on all the beverage bills and the role of soda and health, visit the CCPHA website at: publichealthadvocacy.org.

SOURCE California Center for Public Health Advocacy

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