HFA Newsletter, September 2017


In this month’s newsletter: Industry-backed preemption attempts put sugary drink tax policies at risk … The first peer reviewed study to thoroughly assess the real-world impact of a sugary drink tax on jobs is published … US adult obesity rates are slowing, but big inequities remain … A roundup of recent media coverage of the sugar reduction movement.

“Grocery Taxes” are Back, Now as a Front for Preemption


Preemption, an approach the tobacco industry used to stop cities and counties from passing or strengthening smokefree air ordinances, is back – this time, putting local sugary drink taxes and healthy default kids’ meal policies at risk.

In Oregon, the Northwest Grocers Association recently announced intent to gather signatures for a 2018 statewide ballot measure that would prohibit taxes on food and nonalcoholic drinks.  Motivated by last year’s failed ballot measure campaign for a gross receipts tax -- an excise tax, levied on companies – led by Oregon public employee unions, the Northwest Grocers Association’s new measure would also retroactively stop places like Multnomah County (which encompasses Portland, OR) from enacting sugary drink taxes.

Oregon Grocery Tax Initiative May Sink Multnomah County Soda Tax. (Oregon Public Broadcasting, July 27, 2017)

Currently, nine states prohibit certain local nutrition policies, and there’s a sizeable risk this number will grow. The tobacco-free movement learned to fend off preemption attempts, and the sugar reduction movement is drawing lessons from that. For instance, public health advocates and their allies blocked multiple attempts in the New Mexico legislature to preempt local sugary drink taxes during Santa Fe’s campaign.

To understand how preemption is a serious danger to public health policy, here’s some recommended reading.

Soda and Fast Food Lobbyists Push State Preemption Laws to Prevent Local Regulation. (Forbes, June 21, 2017)

Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them. (The New York Times: July 6, 2017)

Grassroots Change: Nutrition Preemption Interactive Map.

The Potential for Federal Preemption of State and Local Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes.  (Pomeranz, Jennifer L. et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, August 29, 2017)

This messaging toolkit offers ways to talk about preemption according to the political leanings of your audience.
American Heart Association and Grassroots Change: Preemption Messaging Toolkit.

Study: Has Mexico’s Sugary Drink Tax Affected Jobs?

POlicy Profile

Researchers from Mexico have published the first peer reviewed study evaluating the real impact of a sugary drink tax on employment. The article, appearing in the journal Preventive Medicine, concluded that Mexico’s tax on sugary drinks and junk food had no impact on food and beverage sector jobs, or on overall national unemployment rates. In every tax campaign, the beverage industry has argued that a sugary drink tax will reduce good-paying jobs in beverage distribution, manufacturing, and retail. Modeling studies and preliminary analyses of employment data in Mexico and Berkeley have refuted these claims, but this is the first study to thoroughly analyze changes in employment in a real-world setting. Download the full study here.

Adult Obesity Rates Slow, But Big Inequities Remain

Research Watch

New data on obesity in America shows that the rapid increase in obesity over the past few decades may finally be leveling off. While this is promising, obesity – a body mass index of 30 or more for adults -- remains significantly higher than it was just a couple decades ago: in 2016, every state had an obesity prevalence above 20 percent, compared to 1995 when no state’s obesity prevalence was above 20 percent. And obesity prevalence varies substantially by race, income, and education level. New maps from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveal the stark contrast between obesity prevalence among black and white adults. Check out the new State of Obesity report from Trust for America’s Health for a detailed analysis of adult and childhood obesity data and trends, as well as analysis of policies and strategies to reduce obesity.

For a deeper dive into these findings like these, explore our issues of Research Watch.  You can also subscribe here to receive new issues of Research Watch delivered directly to your inbox.

Highlights From Our Media Updates

Media Image

How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food. (The New York Times) “’Half the world’s population has not had a Coke in the last 30 days,’ [Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, said in 2014]. ‘There’s 600 million teenagers who have not had a Coke in the last week. So the opportunity for that is huge.’”

San Francisco’s Soda Law Blocked by Appeals Court. (SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle) “The ruling overturned a decision in May 2016 by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco, who said the city’s message was ‘factual and accurate’ but agreed to delay enforcement of the ordinance while the industry appealed. John Coté, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said city officials were disappointed by the ruling and were examining their options, which could include a request to the full court for a rehearing.”

Soda Tax Debate Overlooks Sugar’s Sinister History. (The Chicago Reporter) “[W]e get upset at tragedies we can see in real-time, like carnage from storms and street violence. It’s the slow death that lulls us into complacency on pushing smart social policy. With the obvious health and historical implications of sugar consumption, one wonders why more taxpayers aren’t using their agency to embrace a tax with the underlying value that life matters.”

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