Victory at hand in Philadelphia!

A soda tax for Philadelphia cleared a major hurdle Wednesday when the City Council’s budget committee – made up of all council members – voted to send a 1.5-cent per ounce tax on sweetened drinks to regular council meeting for formal adoption.

Dr. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America, issued this statement in response:

“Council members stood up to more than $4 million worth of beverage industry pressure to do the right thing for the long-term health and life chances of Philadelphia kids.

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Big Soda uses Big Tobacco’s dirty tricks against us

Anyone who was around during the battles against Big Tobacco remembers the notorious tactics: Hijacking science. Co-opting patriotism for marketing purposes.  Paying celebrities millions and using cartoons to promote harmful products to kids.

We are seeing all that and more from Big Soda and junk-food purveyors – but this year, the veil is starting to lift.

Last week, Associated Press reporter Candice Choi highlighted how one of the industry’s most powerful tactics is the funding of nutrition research: “It carries the weight of academic authority, becomes a part of scientific literature and generates headlines.”

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Supporting sugary drink warning labels in Baltimore

Yesterday, Baltimore City Council's Health Committee heard more than three hours of testimony on a proposal to require health-warning labels for sugary drinks at the point of sale. (The measure is expected to be taken up again in a July work session.) Robi Rawl of Sugar Free Kids Maryland told me the proponents included a diverse, locally representative audience and made a very strong showing. I was not able to attend in person, but advocate Carol Hazen presented the following statement on my behalf:

For 25 years I worked in the public hospital of Seattle, where nearly all of my patients had chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. In most cases, unhealthy diets caused and worsened their conditions.  I recall one patient who was struggling to manage type 2 diabetes. He was confident he had a healthy diet – but he was drinking a gallon of fruit punch a day. Because it was marketed as a healthy, fruit-based drink, he thought he was making a healthy choice. Once he became aware of how much sugar it contained, he cut it out and his diabetes control improved dramatically. 

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How added sugar can go the way of trans fat

Will new labeling requirements put added sugar on a similar trajectory to trans fat as companies face pressure to reformulate their products? Journalist Deena Shanker mulled that question in Bloomberg:

“Sugar is everywhere in the American diet, and now the Food and Drug Administration will begin highlighting just how much of the sweet stuff is added to what we eat…

Looking back at the trajectory of trans fat, which joined the Nutrition Facts box in 2006, this could, in fact, constitute the beginning of the end of added sugar.”

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FDA to industry: Stop hiding sugar behind terms like ‘evaporated cane juice’

Now that federal dietary guidelines have identified excessive added sugar as a health concern, the Food and Drug Administration is taking a series of steps to bring it out of hiding. Not only will we see new changes to the nutrition labels, but FDA also is directing processed food makers to stop using euphemisms like “evaporated cane juice”. 

Our executive director, Jim Krieger, explained to Quartz reporter Chase Purdy that these moves are as welcome as they are overdue:

“This long-awaited change represents a real victory for consumers and their health,” said Jim Krieger, director of the non-profit group Healthy Food America, in a statement. “The science is clear that added sugars, which today appear in 68 percent of packaged food and beverages, are a key contributor to rising rates of diabetes and liver, heart and dental disease.”

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Reclaiming revenue from sugary drinks is an idea whose time has come

When Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney explained to New York Times columnist Mark Bittman why he is looking to a sugary drinks tax for funding to lift kids out of poverty, he minced no words:

“We are going to a source where there is substantial profit, and one that has the ability to take that hit and not skip a beat. They sell more of their product in poor communities than elsewhere, and for generations none of that profit was passed on to those communities. There is no downside to this other than that the three major soda companies may make a little less money.”

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FDA changes nutrition panel to bring added sugar out of hiding

First Lady Michelle Obama this morning announced U.S. Food and Drug Administration final approval of a requirement that food makers list grams of added sugars on nutrition-facts panels, along with the percentage of the recommended daily maximum they represent. Dr. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America, issued this statement in response:

“This long-awaited change represents a real victory for consumers and their health. The science is clear that added sugars, which today appear in 68 percent of packaged food and beverages, are a key contributor to rising rates of diabetes and liver, heart and dental disease.

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Bay Area vs. Big Soda heats up

California’s Bay Area this week has been the epicenter of action to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.  On Tuesday, the same day a federal judge ruled that San Francisco could proceed with requiring warning labels on soda ads, the East Bay city of Albany added a proposed sugary drinks tax to the November ballot.

Albany joins neighboring Oakland in letting voters decide this November whether to follow Berkeley's example with a penny per ounce tax on sugary drinks.  A similar effort is likely to hit the ballot in San Francisco, where supporters and their Board of Supervisors allies are working through a delay caused by a technical error.  

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Phony fruit drinks

Just because it’s orange doesn’t mean it’s juice. Have you ever looked at the ingredients for Sunny D? Or Capri Sun? Yep, just as much added sugar as soda.

And yet these fruit-flavored drinks – often masquerading as “juice” with health benefits – are a leading source of added sugars in the diets of young kids.  They are also the most common sugary drink of early childhood, with parents are six times more likely to rate things like Sunny D and Capri Sun as healthy compared with soda.  Just like soda though, fruit-flavored drinks increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, and dental decay.  You can find these and other unsettling features of fruity drinks in our new fact sheet.

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Support for Philly soda tax builds

Support for Philadelphia’s soda tax continues to grow even as opponents scour their predictable playbook for scare tactics, stunts and misdirection. They still don’t have a good answer for the Harvard research (commissioned by HFA) showing the enormous benefits in saving lives and dollars. Nor can they deny what the tax revenue could do for the city’s children: universal Pre-K, community schools, and rebuilt parks and recreation facilities.

Advocate Morgan Abate sees health programs and policies as key to eradicating poverty. This inspired her to create a graphic which captures the benefits of Philadelphia’s sugary drink tax.

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