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Less Soda, More Sports = Healthy Kids

Posted: Sep 20, 2012

Richmond has a chance to make history this November. We can pass the Soda Tax and lead the nation in reversing childhood obesity. Let’s keep our focus on the health of our children. If we do, we will Vote Yes on N.

The medical science is new and not well known. There is a smoking gun. Sugar-sweetened
beverages cause obesity, diabetes, premature heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and many cancers. All of the major causes of death have a definitive link to sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. Imagine being among the first to understand that cigarettes cause lung cancer. That’s the position we are now in with sugar-sweetened beverages.

It’s not about getting fat. It’s about dying young!

Our children are consuming these unhealthy beverages daily. Big Soda is spending millions of
dollars advertising to our children. The results have been terrible for Richmond.

Fully one in three of our African American and Latino students are obese, and another 20
percent in each categoryis overweight. Fifteen percent of Asian students and 10 percent of white students are obese. If we do nothing, many of these kids will die young. It’s not their fault and it’s not fair to them or their families.

These sodas are full of fructose that gets converted to fat in the liver. The liver gets packed with fat resulting in diabetes and liver failure. The liver also makes the unhealthy fats that plug up the heart’s arteries, leading to premature heart attacks.

All of this science is new. One can of soda a day increases your risk of a heart attack by 20 percent.

This is one of the greatest public health emergencies facing America. The federal and state governments have failed to act. If we want to save our kids from short and unhealthy lives, we need to do something about it ourselves.

The country’s top doctor for prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends doing exactly what Richmond is doing: levying a Soda Tax. In Dr. Frieden’s own words: “The one-cent per ounce sugar-sweetened beverage tax “could be the single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

The American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Public
Health Association, the Institute of Medicine and the United Nations all support a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents our children’s doctors, “applauds the Richmond City Council on behalf of the health of the children of California and strongly supports this measure.”

Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper fund the opposition. Without their funding there would be no organized opposition to the Soda Tax in Richmond. They pay for the billboards, mailings, and phone banking. They claim that we are unfairly targeting sodas, pointing out that there is sugar in solid foods as well.

Sodas are consumed when we get thirsty in order to re-supply our bodies with water. For 150,000 years, humans have satisfied their thirst with water. Our bodies expect us to do the same today. We drink when we get thirsty. We eat when we are hungry. They are completely different systems in the body. The choice when we get thirsty is not between a donut and a soda. The choice is between a soda and what nature intended -- water.

Sodas have no nutritional value. Their calories are empty calories. We now know, they are also harmful calories. Unlike solid foods, sugar-sweetened beverages cause no feeling of fullness. They cause tooth decay, overweight, obesity, diabetes, premature heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure and some cancers. So why would we want to give them to our children?

Big Soda claims that the Soda Tax will hurt Richmond’s poor. It is Richmond’s poor who
suffer most from diabetes and premature heart attacks. No one needs to pay the Soda Tax. We all can drink tap water, which is free. The cost to a family for care of a family member with diabetes or a premature heart attack far outweighs the cost of the Soda Tax.

Big Soda claims the City Council will squander the money raised from the tax. I predict that the City Council will spend the money on programs and projects to reverse the obesity epidemic. I predict that $86,000 of the anticipated $3 million in Soda Tax revenue will go to teach every third-grader in Richmond how to swim at The Plunge.

But we can do much more than that. We can build new sports fields. We can pay for afterschool sports so every Richmond child can participate. We can put nutrition teachers in our schools. We can work with families to teach better food and beverage choices.

Imagine a Richmond that leads the nation in reversing the obesity/diabetes/premature heart
attack/stroke/high blood pressure/cancer epidemic. If we put the welfare of our children first, we will be that Richmond. Can there be any better investment in the future of Richmond then an investment in dramatically improving the health of our children?

Join actor and human rights activist Danny Glover and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who ask you to vote YES on N. Because less soda, more sports equals healthy children.

Dr. Jeff Ritterman is a Richmond City Councilmember and retired chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond Medical Center.

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