BERKELEY, Calif. — This past weekend MomsRising.org co-sponsored an educational panel on soda. Berkeley and San Francisco, California, each have ballot initiatives to tax soda as a way to curb consumption, and in San Francisco’s case, fund certain public programs.
Up to now, every single soda tax ballot initiative in the country has failed as the industry has pumped serious money to defeat such measures. And as healthy and aware as many citizens are here in Berkeley, the measure faces an uphill battle as the industry has dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the measure, including blanket every single lamppost in downtown Berkeley with signs.
On Saturday, MomsRising was on hand to pass out information on our food justice campaign, and also listen to dynamic speakers on the insidious practices of the soda industry: Anne Lappe, author and founder of Small Planet Institute; Lori Dorfman, director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group; Xavier Morales, director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California; Kristine Madsen, pediatrician and research scientist for the University of California in San Francisco; and Vicki Alexander (pictured on right), retired maternal child and adolescent health director and health officer for the city of Berkeley.
As an organizer with MomsRising, I thought I was aware of the rising tide of diet-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, but I walked away from the event appalled. The statistics in California and certain communities in terms of soda consumption and type 2 diabetes was staggering. The soda industry’s hands are not clean here, check out the following stats:
Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda are the largest source of added sugar in children’s diets. 1 in 3 kids will develop diabetes, yet kids in California drink more soda than adults. California researchers found that 41% of children (2-11) and 62% of adolescents (12-17) in the state drank one soda a day, compared to 24% of adults.
The soda industry is predatory of children. It is disingenuous for the industry to simply tell parents to say “no” while it spends billions of dollars creating addictive products and placing them in view of children everywhere: school vending machines, store shelves, happy meals, and even video games.
The Latino community has a lot to lose if the industry’s power isn’t reigned in. One in two — 50% — of U.S. Latinos will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes if no policies are in place to address it, according to Xavier Morales. “Type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic-like proportions in the Latino community,” he said.
While Latinos have a genetic propensity for type 2 diabetes, the industry shamelessly advertises to the community in the form of Spanish ads, billboards and other promotions. In fact, the industry has altered the culture in that it isn’t uncommon for Latino families to have a two-liter bottle of soda on the dinner table as opposed to water or milk, Morales said.
Type 2 Diabetes is no joke. The slides that most haunted me — I will spare you the gory images! — were that of fatty livers, and the havoc type 2 diabetes can wreak on the body: amputations, blindness and certain cancers. Morales said there are more amputations among Californians with type 2 diabetes than war soldiers from Iraq!
Considering the disproportionate impact this epidemic is having on low-income and communities of color, Morales called it a social justice issue. And while he’s received pushback from the industry, he said it is imperative that we forge forward to reverse a trend, in which children today will live shorter and sicker lives than their parents.
A small glimmer of hope: