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Sock it to soda 

The sugary stuff is making us sick and costing us billions of dollars

It is time to take on the scourge of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. They are a large contributing factor to the growing obesity epidemic and increase in diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Soda and its kin are also costing billions of dollars in health costs.

A recent study found that one can a day can increase the risk of a man having a heart attack by 20 percent. If the current obesity trend continues, one in three children born in 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Overweight, obesity, and physical inactivity is estimated to cost California $52 billion annually in health-care costs and lost productivity. Ever wonder why our health-insurance bills are so high?

One 20-ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar; on average, Americans annually drink the equivalent of 39 pounds of sugar through soda consumption.

Our bodies react to sugar from soda and other drinks differently than from solid foods. For instance, cake makes us feel full and we reduce the amount we subsequently eat. Digestion takes hours, allowing our bodies time to deal with the sugar load. Unlike solid foods, liquid calories don’t trigger our sense of feeling “full.” We take in excess liquid calories without being aware of it. When we drink soda, two sugars (glucose and fructose) are immediately absorbed. The glucose enters the bloodstream, signaling the pancreas to churn out insulin. The fructose—the sweet part—goes to the liver, where much of it gets converted into fat.

What can we do about the ill effects of soda? Two things: Drink less soda, and drink more water.

Communities are making fresh water easily and attractively available in schools, offices, and parks. HEAL-SLO, our local obesity prevention coalition, was recently awarded a grant for a “hydration station” to be placed at Sinsheimer Park. This aesthetic and modern water fountain will enable both drinking and filling of water bottles. Its installation will be combined with a public campaign to promote the drinking of tap water as an alternative to sodas.

Other communities have been moving toward taxing soda and sugar-sweetened beverages. This will both reduce consumption and raise money to combat obesity.

Our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has risen above the politics to institute a new national soda tax of one peso per liter—about 10 percent—beginning with the New Year. They have added an additional junk food tax of 8 percent.

In the United States, a penny per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could prevent 2.4 million cases of diabetes a year, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 premature births over 10 years. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a penny per ounce tax would reduce soda consumption by more than 10 percent.

Our State Senator Bill Monning has introduced SB 622, which establishes an excise tax of one cent per ounce on drinks with added sugar or high-calorie sweeteners, and the revenue will fund the Children’s Health Promotion Fund, to be spent on childhood obesity prevention activities. We should support this.

But we don’t need to wait for the state to act. SLO was the first city in the country (if not the world) to end smoking in bars and restaurants. It is now a worldwide phenomenon, and it started here. SLO can also be a leader in combating the ill effects of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.

I urge you to get involved in supporting SB 622, reducing the consumption of soda and increasing the availability of fresh drinking water.


Joel Diringer is a local attorney and public health advocate. He facilitated the county’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and was one of the founders of Healthy Eating, Active Living San Luis Obispo (HEAL-SLO). Send comments to the executive editor at

-- Joel Diringer - San Luis Obispo

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