A recent survey, conducted by the Field Poll, shows that a majority of California voters would support a sugary soda tax, but only if the revenue was distributed to nutrition and fitness programs in school. Tweet the news: Tweet
This is not a new issue by any means. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned restaurants and retailers from selling any sodas in servings over sixteen ounces. Though this ban does not exist in California, the Field Poll exposed this issue relevant to the entire country.
Senior vice president of California Endowment, Dr. Anthony Iton, said of the survey:
“The public is still not there on a general soda tax, but when you earmark it, when you say the proceeds will go to things like trying to improve the food environment or enhance recreational activities, then large majorities across the board are supportive of that policy.”
California Endowment is a private health foundation that funded the Field Poll survey. Out of 1,184 registered California voters, the survey found that, overall, Californians supported promoting health through education programs, keeping parks open later, as well as having community gardens and more farmers’ markets. When it came to an actual soda tax, however, these voters were quite hesitant.
According to the survey, two out of three Californians would vote for a soda tax if it was used to improve student health and nutrition. Though only forty-eight percent supported a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages initially, the number jumped to sixty-eight percent when the proposed tax revenue went to fund nutrition and exercise programs in schools. Tweet stat: Tweet
Different types of sugary drinks have varying risks of weight-related issues, according to the poll. Seventy-five percent see a definite link between regular intake of popular sodas and a higher risk of obesity. This drops to forty-two percent when asked about energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull. Only twenty-six percent see a direct link between obesity and sweetened sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. Tweet stat: Tweet
When not posed with specific tax consequences, the poll shows overwhelming support for expansion of more health programs in schools:
- 83 percent would like to see physical education programs better funded, and 82% would keep schools’ playgrounds and fields open later and on weekends.
- Three out of four would vote for more farmer-friendly policies to sell produce build community gardens in low-income areas.
- 84 percent think hospitals should educate new mothers on the ways breastfeeding can help prevent obesity.
- 53 percent argue that childhood obesity is not talked about enough in their community.
The poll’s results distinguished between six separate regions of California and found that participants in low income areas were most supportive of health initiatives, including public farmers’ markets and accessible athletic facilities. These are often families who rely on state-subsidized lunches and physical education classes to supplement their children’s health.
“Support for these efforts is even greater in communities that carry the greatest burden of illness and costs from obesity-related conditions,” said Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment. “As a state we need to support creative approaches to fighting obesity in California.” Tweet quote: Tweet
Though not a brand new issue, it seems that public opinion highly favors a tax on sugary drinks. A harmless comfort to some, the direct link between sodas and obesity is extremely palpable.
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This is going to be fraught with difficulties in implementation - what counts as a sugary soda? What about non-carbonated, high-sugar beverages? Aren't "fake sugars" in diet sodas like aspartame harmful as well (link to cancer, etc.)? Wouldn't a straight up sugar or fat tax be a better solution?
There are obviously arguments both ways; on the one hand I feel that people with bad health habits should not force everyone who enjoys a soda or energy drink to suffer an extra burden, but on the other hand, it works pretty well for cigarettes and alcohol which can be taxed pretty highly. Then again, is this just a slippery slope, will anything with fat or sugar or cholesterol eventually be taxed too because it has led to obesity and health problems in some people? If you have health problems, wouldn't it be easier to just put the soda down and go exercise rather than try to get the government to make it too expensive for you to keep buying the soda?
I'd support something like this, but of course I'd like to see certain safeguards for tax revenue being used for childhood health programs. I'm not a big soda drinker, but distinctions between diet sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks would definitely be large talking points.