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The Pepsi Generation: Fat, Poorer and Diabetic

With the link between soda and obesity now conclusive, consider the damage being done to our children. There should be a fee on soda and other sweetened beverages.
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Who knew? Obesity and soda consumption are two sides of the same coin. A new study by UCLA's Center for Health Policy and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) shows a strong correlation between soda consumption and weight. Specifically, the study's researchers found that adults who drink a soda or more a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who don't. Pop! What's my excuse? I only drink LA's finest tap water, or seltzer when I'm feeling flush. I barely reach for Coke or Pepsi. The thought that in this economy Californians are wasting their hard earned dough on a product that makes them fat and diabetic instead of drinking zero-calorie and virtually free tap water is baffling.

You can bet the bottlers are all over this with their allies the birthers, the Howard Jarvis sound-alikes, and the No to National Health Insurance crazies. Throw in the I Hate the Food Police folks, Glenn Beck, and Rush and you've got the worst party since John McCain's election night gala.

To quote Harold Goldstein, CCPHA's Executive Director, "We drink soda like water but unlike water soda serves up a whopping 17 teaspoons of sugar in every 20 ounce serving."

With the link between soda and obesity now conclusive, consider the damage being done to our children. In too many households they are being raised on the stuff. In these homes, it's not, "Get a blunt and a forty" that is making kids sick it's "Get a forty ounce Big Gulp at 7-11 or Costco's free refill and you're set for the afternoon in front of iCarly or the Disney Channel on the new flat screen."

The UCLA/CCPHA study found that 41 percent of young children (ages 2-11) are drinking at least one soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage a day. But it is adolescents (ages 12-17) who are the biggest consumers of soda with over 62 percent or two million California teens drinking one or more cans a day. That is 39 pounds of sugar a year. And as study lead author Susan Babey or any IPOD listening couch potato can confirm, "Soda's cheap, sweet, and irresistibly marketed to teens." Hell, you don't need "Dr." in front of your name to know that.

Adds CCPHA's Goldstein, "If we are serious about tackling the obesity crisis cutting back on soda consumption has to be the top priority. We cannot afford to raise another Pepsi generation."

So where do we go from here? Like yesterday's tobacco control assault on Joe Camel, tacking fees on soda couldn't happen to a nicer industry. This is already afoot in San Francisco and New York where forward thinking mayors are leading the way.

San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom is nobody's fool. He knows that soda is the new tobacco and that nickel on a can fees can help the cash-strapped city start to pay the exorbitant medical bills racked up by the obese and diabetic among San Francisco's uninsured.

But the fight will get nasty, and Coke and Pepsi won't go away easily. Instead they will stand in the way and drag along the city because every day's delay means more change in their pockets. The cries that it will help our children will be drowned out (or so the bottlers hope) by industry lobbyists and PR flacks repeating the tired mantra, "Say no to the anti-American food police." Borrowing from the Yes on 8 playbook camp, they will parade out the tape of Newsom saying, "It's going to happen, whether you like it or not."

Well I like it and you should too. There should be a fee on soda and other sweetened beverages. And no, this is NOT the slippery slope to chocolate-free Tuesdays.

Whether Newsom succeeds or not the emasculated current California Governor and Legislature should follow suit and pass legislation that would levy fees on soda.

While kids throughout the state are drinking more soda than adults, the largely poor Central Valley is the soda capital of California. Leading the pack are Kings, Madera, Kern, and Imperial Counties. Ironically, these areas, my old stomping ground, in California's agricultural heartland, produce many of the state's healthy crops including almonds, citrus, carrots, grapes, kiwis, and walnuts. Yet like the residents of Steinbeck's Weedpatch it is as if the children of California's Central Valley and desert communities can't eat the fruit and vegetables their parents pick and pack.

Fees on soda make sense and with a fight coming my money is on the lean and well nourished David versus the Pepsi Generation's Goliath.

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