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LA legislators debate action on soda

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 06-Nov-2009

Related topics: Regulation, Soda tax

Soda tax was on the agenda again yesterday as California legislators debated the possible link between obesity and sugary soft drinks.

The Select Committee on Obesity and Diabetes and the Senate Health Committee held a joint hearing at Los Angeles City Hall inviting members of the beverage industry, health experts, community leaders and state officials to discuss the alleged role of sugar-sweetened soft drinks in America’s obesity crisis, and the possibility of taxation.

Senator Alex Padilla, chair of the Select Committee on Obesity and Diabetes, said: “Sugar-sweetened drinks are not the only factor contributing to the rise in obesity rates; a poor diet, lack of exercise and increased portion size also play a large role. We cannot ignore however that while sugar-sweetened drink consumption has increased, thanks to free refills and supersizing, so has the rate of obesity in California and throughout the nation.”

Health Committee chair Elaine Alquist cited figures showing that forty-one percent of two- to 11-year-old children, 62 percent of teenagers, and 24 percent of adults drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Representatives of The Coca-Cola Company and the American Beverage Association also testified at the hearing, and emphasized calories from the whole diet and lack of exercise as potential causes for obesity, as opposed to the 5.5 percent of calories derived from sweetened drinks.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a non-profit organization funded by the food and beverage industries, restaurants and individuals, released a statement in which it claims “a wealth of academic research casts serious doubt on whether there is any link between soda and obesity” and cited a survey showing that two-thirds of Americans oppose soda taxes as a way to discourage consumption.

Speaking immediately after the hearing, Dr Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) said: “These hearings offered a rare opportunity to review the research and hear from all sides in this debate. Given what we’ve just learned, if we’re serious about making an impact on obesity, soda is the natural and logical place to begin.”

CCPHA has estimated that obesity costs the state of California $41bn a year.