After Soda Tax, Philadelphians 40 Percent Less Likely to Guzzle Sugar
By Katie O'Reilly
Just two months after a tax of $0.015 per ounce of soda, energy drinks and other sugary beverages went into effect in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphians were already reaching for the sweet stuff significantly less often than their counterparts in nearby cities. A study published Thursday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows a 40 percent decrease in Philadelphians' consumption of soda, and a 60 percent drop in that of energy drinks.
Taxes on sugary drinks are nothing new: In 2014, Mexico passed the first national soda tax in an effort to combat its obesity rate (the highest in the world), and in 2015, Berkeley, California, kicked off the soda tax movement in the U.S. Several cities in Northern California's Bay Area followed suit, as did Colorado's Boulder, Oregon's Portland, and for short time, Chicago (the Windy City's tax was notoriously repealed last year, following a multi-million-dollar battle between Big Soda and public health groups). While other studies have shown that soda taxes reduce sales of sugary beverages, this is the first study to also show a drop in consumption, said Amy Auchincloss, an associate professor in Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health, who co-authored the paper.
Big Soda's environmental impacts are not insignificant. Aside from recycling and littering woes, a lot of sodas' sweetener is made from GMO corn, while the cans pop comes in are made from resource-intensive virgin aluminium. Evidence suggests that the soda industry grows its colossal profits by targeting kids and people of color. And as a major contributor to health epidemics like obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease, soda also ramps up societal medical costs.
Considering that 30 percent of Philadelphians have at least one sugary beverage each day, even a small drop in consumption could have an impact on public health. "Current pricing structures can make soda overly affordable relative to more nutritious drinks," said Auchincloss, noting that this disproportionately impacts health in lower-income households.
Kristine Madsen, a pediatrician, and a public health professor who worked on Berkeley's pioneering soda tax, agrees that soda taxes and other flat taxes tend to make a bigger difference in lower-income households. "People in the communities where diabetes affects the biggest proportion of residents are in fact the most likely to stop purchasing soda," Madsen said. Soda taxes have also prompted some companies to slash the sugar in their beverages, as has already been the case in the United Kingdom's graduated soda levy, enacted just last week. (Coca-Cola pre-emptively reduced the sugar content of Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and Fanta, and is reportedly considering selling smaller cans, in the UK at least.)
To that end, Madsen is troubled by ongoing negotiations over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as the Trump administration seems to be using trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit governmental ability to use warning labels to inform consumers about the dangers of junk food. "It's unfortunate that this administration is protecting American manufacturers," said Madsen, "because such labels have been having a great effect in other countries."
Philadelphia's sugary beverage tax is notable in the public health community for being among the most intensive—increasing beverage prices by about 20 percent—and for being the first to extend to diet soda. "Most dietary researchers are not enthusiastic about artificial sweeteners," said Auchincloss, "which may be associated with abdominal obesity, stroke, and dementia." Interestingly, Philadelphians' consumption of sugary fruit drinks such as Snapple and Sunny Delight did not decline, even though they were also taxed. "These drinks may be viewed as healthier than soda, despite having the same amount of added sugar—about 10 packets per 12 ounces," Auchincloss said.
After the tax, Philadelphia residents also became 58 percent more likely to drink bottled water on a daily basis, causing a more-than-13-percent hike in sales of bottled water. Auchincloss is concerned about new evidence that shows low-income Philadelphians are actually more likely to buy bottled water and less likely to drink out of their home faucets than residents with means. "I think the water crises in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere have increased consumer concerns about drinking water," she said, "and many soda companies have gotten into selling bottled water, so increased marketing could be at play, too. It's tough, because as a result, plastic pollution can put anti-soda crusade folks at odds with environmentalists."
However, environmentalists may in fact be wise to take a page from the anti-soda crusade's playbook, as it demonstrates that cost deterrents can motivate behavior. "Right now, the cost of driving, for instance, is not being passed onto drivers or the auto industry," Auchincloss explained, "and the cost of not recycling isn't passed onto residents—so there's little incentive to change environmentally harmful behavior."
Added Madsen, "I think we need to think about a suite of interventions, because the industry needs pressure from the government. We need to think about what incentivizes and influences people's purchasing decisions. If those choices are costing society money, it's the government's role to step in and effect greater balance."
U.S. city councils are seeing soda taxes as a boon—Berkeley's one-cent-per-ounce tax goes into the city's general fund, while Philadelphia is using funds from the tax to expand the availability of pre-kindergarten. It all begs the question of whether some sort of pollution tax could help mitigate environmental crises such as climate change, while benefiting towns' bottom lines. If your city starts drafting plans to tax individual use of carbon or non-recyclables, please do drop us a line.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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