- Author: Patricia B. Crawford, DrPH, RD
Two years ago, Berkeley voters approved the first soda tax in the country. Folks in Berkeley pay a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks including sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled sweet tea and coffee drinks. Tax revenues from the first year totaled approximately $1.4 million dollars.
I serve as a member of the Berkeley Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission appointed by the City Council. This group is tasked with advising City Council on measures the Council can take to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley.
So far, the City Council has allocated a total of $2 million toward reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and their harmful health impacts. At the recommendation of the experts panel, Berkeley has funded health and wellness activities in Berkeley schools through Berkeley Unified School District's cooking and gardening programming, and a variety of strategies by community agencies to educate residents and increase healthy beverage environments in the city.
Those of us working in the area of nutrition science know that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is the most effective way to reduce rates of obesity, diabetes and related health conditions. The greatest source of sugar in the diets of children is sugar-sweetened beverages.
We also now know that the Berkeley tax to date has been a spectacular success. A study published in August by UC Berkeley scientists shows a 21 percent drop in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley's low-income neighborhoods. In comparison, low-income neighborhoods saw a 4 percent increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the same periodin San Francisco, where a soda tax was defeated in 2014, and in Oakland, which also doesn't currently have a soda tax. The American Beverage Association, which has spent millions of dollars in an effort to defeat various soda tax proposals, opposes soda-tax ballot measures in our communities, and is using advertising campaigns and door-to-door canvassing that spread carefully crafted and misleading messages to voters.
The Bay Area has long been an early adopter of many important ideas, initiating movements that have spread across the country. Will Oakland, Albany and San Francisco follow Berkeley's lead to a healthier future for their communities?