Council Urged to Put DC School Kids Ahead of Special-Interest Opponents of Soda Tax
Cheh Proposal Would Provide for Healthier School Foods
WASHINGTON—The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest today called on members of the District of Columbia Council to support a proposal by Council Member Mary Cheh to levy a penny-per-ounce tax on soda to help pay for healthier school meals. The nonprofit nutrition and food-safety group is aiding a petition drive in support of the proposal along with Save the Children, Earth Day Network, and other organizations at www.supporthealthyschools.org.
Cheh's Healthy Schools Revenue Act would provide $6.5 million a year to fund the Healthy Schools Act. Together, the acts would improve school nutrition, provide free breakfast in all District schools, eliminate the reduced-price copayment for lunch, and triple the amount of physical and health education. An additional $6 million would fund healthy food access, faith-based anti-obesity programs, and programs to improve the diets and wellness of the elderly in the District.
"Soda consumption in the District is fueling an expensive epidemic of diet-related disease, including obesity, diabetes, and other health problems," said CSPI executive director and District resident Michael F. Jacobson. "A modest tax on this nutritionally worthless, disease-promoting product would give our seniors and children greater access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other health-promoting foods."
Residents of Washington, DC, collectively spend about $472 million on the medical costs of obesity alone, Jacobson wrote in a letter delivered today to Council Members. Fifty-five percent of District adults and 35 percent of children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and sugar-sweetened drinks are the only foods or beverages that have been shown to increase the risk of overweight and obesity. One study found that for each additional sugared drink consumed per day, the likelihood of a child becoming obese increases by 60 percent.
A web site set up by soda tax opponents lists a number of liquor stores and fast-food outlets that oppose the Cheh proposal. United Medical Center, the hospital formerly known as Greater Southeast Community Hospital, also appears on that list, apparently without authorization. The hospital told CSPI that it would ask to be taken off the list.
"I'm not surprised that Coke, Pepsi, liquor stores, and fast-food chains would object to a soda tax," Jacobson said. "But their concerns must take a back seat to the health of our students and seniors."
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).