Recently, I wrote about why sugary drinks are a major contributor to the health problems our kids are facing. Now, let's talk about solutions. Here are two ideas Texas can consider:
1. We could educate Texans about the dangers of excessive sugary drink consumption.
Last week, Dr. Stephen Pont, the medical director for Austin Independent School District and Dell Children's Center, helped launch just such an effort with the No Soda Challenge at Perez Elementary School in Austin. The goal is for kids and their families to abstain from drinking soda, Monday through Friday throughout the school year. The No Soda Challenge is designed to raise awareness and teach kids that soda is a treat, not an everyday drink. Education will be a critical piece of the solution because, believe it or not, a lot of people don't know that unexplained pounds may be mounting from even just one soda a day.
At Texans Care, we believe education will be a critical piece of the solution, but it won't be easy. Sugary drinks are marketed extensively to children, as the food and beverage industry spends more marketing these products to children than they do for any other category of products. The industry spends approximately $2 billion per year marketing directly to kids. Even if Texas had the will and finances to launch a major public health campaign, it would be very difficult to change consumer behavior against the backdrop of an industry with billions to spend in counter marketing. (And let's not forget efforts like the "Let's Clear it Up" campaign.)
Creating targeted sugary drink educational opportunities within schools will be crucial. Texas schools are a controlled environment. We pay for them and can influence the education children get there. This includes through the beverages sold at school, through curriculum, and through labeling vending machines so that if less healthy sugary drinks are in the vicinity of our teens or preteens, so is good information about what that means for their bodies.
2. We could tax sugary drinks, like we tax alcohol and cigarettes, to reduce consumption and make the beverages reflect the real cost to us all. A penny-per-ounce tax on these items wouldn't stop people from buying them, but it would curb their consumption enough that the USDA estimates the average consumer would lose up to 4 to 5 lbs. a year.
We tax cigarettes because that product has been identified as a root contributor to a major health epidemic that costs Texas and American taxpayers billions every year. That's the same rationale we could bring to taxing sugary drinks. Some people don't like the idea of a tax because they say that they should not be punished for other people's choices, but the truth is 67% of Texas adults are overweight or obese and the public shoulders the cost for this, with higher health care costs especially. Texas businesses also pay big time, with obesity racking up an over $9 billion dollar bill to private businesses in 2009 alone. We're all on the hook for these costs and they are unsustainable. So the question really isn't "do you want to pay?" it's "what do you want to pay for?" At Texans Care we'd like to pay for better outcomes, better lives, healthier children, and a more productive future. The choice is really up to us. We believe now is the time to change course and taxes are a tool powerful enough to help us do it.
We believe there are real possibilities here to make a difference in what is shaping up to be the worst public health crisis in recent history. Maybe you have other ideas, maybe I'm the Grinch who stole your soda and you really don't know about this whole tax idea. That's okay, because together we can explore all of our options.
What we absolutely can't do is ignore this problem. In a lot of ways, obesity is uncharted territory for all of us. It's a modern problem, and as we identify issues like sugary drinks, we need your collaboration, we need your ideas, we need your strength, and we need solutions. As far as our collective future is concerned, obesity is about more than clearing it up--it's about turning it around.
Ready to join us in doing this?