Op-ed: Measure D levels the health playing field

You are a busy person taking time to be informed and I respect that. So I’m going to let you in on my line of reasoning here: corporations impact what we drink, what we drink impacts our health, “our health” includes “your health”, you can vote, therefore vote “Yes” on D!

Why am I writing this? We need to level the health playing field and Measure D is a way to do that.

Corporations impact what we drink

In 2013 the soft drink industry sales in the US totaled $18.4 billion. In 2011, Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper spent a combined $7.3 billion on marketing alone (more than 6 times the entire 2015 budget request for funding of the CDC’s chronic disease prevention efforts).

And they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. Research finds that people who see more ads for sugar-sweetened beverages wind up drinking more of them. Also, there is strong evidence that demand for sugar-sweetened beverages is a habit; consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages leads to even more consumption on the household level.

What we drink impacts our health

Drinking calories is not the same as eating them. We wouldn’t eat 22 packets of sugar, but that’s how much we consume when we drink a 20-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage. People who consume high levels of sugar-sweetened beverages have been found to have a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those with low sugar sweetened beverage consumption.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, is on the rise. This includes increases among children and adolescents, who account for 30-50% of newly diagnosed cases. If current trends continue (i.e. if we don’t do something about it) about 2 of every 5 people will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

“Our health” includes “your health”

The increasing prevalence of diabetes means that many members of our community have or will have diabetes, which could include me, you, and the people we know and care about. Equally concerning is that 1 out of 4 people who have diabetes don’t know it. The fact that risk of death among people with diabetes is 50% higher than those without diabetes is yet another reason to level the health playing field with policy solutions.

Not everyone is impacted by diabetes equally, resulting in significant health disparities nationally and locally, in Berkeley. These inequities are not the result of individual behavior, but of the broader economic, social, and political systems in which we all live our lives, necessitating policy-based solutions.

On the economic side, diet-related disease is expensive. Remember the $18.4 billion in soft drink sales that I mentioned earlier? Well, for context, health care and related costs for the treatment of diagnosed diabetes in California alone is 50% more than that. The government (a.k.a. taxpayers) pays for the majority of diabetes-related medical costs, in many ways subsidizing the health impacts of the soft drink industry.

You can vote

A group of committed advocates have put a solution on this year’s ballot and given us the power to contribute. Measure D will help to educate about the harmful health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages, curb our consumption, and raise funds for diet-related disease prevention efforts. It’s so refreshing to have a problem AND be presented with a solution.

Research suggests that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would produce a decrease in consumption. One study found that a 24% decrease in sugar-sweetened beverages would result from a penny-per-ounce excise tax.

The opposition to Measure D is not offering a solution. Instead, the American Beverage Association-backed “No” campaign is spending lots of dollars to instill doubt. But luckily, it’s pretty easy to see through their tactics to find a fearful industry promulgating an anti-health message.

Therefore, vote “Yes” on D!

We have a real problem and have been presented with very real solution that will benefit us all. The question is not whether we need to do something about sugar-sweetened beverages, but when and how? And we are lucky to have an answer: On Nov. 4, vote “Yes” on D!

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Bryden Johnston is a second-year Master of Public Health student at UC Berkeley.