Hawaii needs a tax on sodas and other sweetened beverages.

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In Hawaii, childhood obesity increased 38% from 1999 to 2009, and adult obesity rates more than doubled from 1996 to 2011.  The prevalence of obesity and being overweight among native Hawaiians and other pacific islanders is particularly high, 76% to 90%.  The highest consumption rates of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) are often seen in racial and ethnic minorities that also have some of the highest rates of obesity.

To reduce obesity by decreasing SSB consumption, several bills on taxing SSB were proposed in Hawaii between 2010 and 2013.  However, none of these bills made it through the full legislative process. Opponents argued that the tax would have a disproportionate impact on small business owners and low-income consumers.  The soda industry contended that taxing beverages alone would be a discriminatory action when obesity is a complex problem.  As a consequence, no further SSB tax bill has been introduced since 2013. However, Hawaii stakeholders have been undertaking multiple efforts to support a tax on sodas and other sweetened beverages and overcome opposition.  For example, the Hawaii State Department of Health successfully launched the ‘Start Living Healthy’ statewide health promotion campaign, including the youth-focused ‘Rethink Your Drink’ media campaign. The University of Hawaii developed a culturally-congruent, community-based ‘Partnership for Improving Lifestyle Intervention (PILI)’ program, targeting overweight or obese native Hawaiians and other pacific islanders.

Lab 5 Blog Photo_Jpark.jpgSodas and other sweetened beverages provide almost no nutritional value, yet they are the single greatest source of added sugar or sweeteners in American diets.  They also contribute to adverse chronic health conditions, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and dental caries.

As demonstrated by taxes on sodas and other sweetened beverages in Berkeley, CA and a SSB tax in Mexico (both in 2014), and following the recent passage in Philadelphia, taxing sodas and other sweetened beverages can work in Hawaii, as well as raise funds for health promotion in the State.  In addition, the efforts by supporters to educate communities about the adverse health effects of these sweetened drinks can decrease their resistance to taxes on these products.

Action: Mobilize communities to enhance their awareness of why taxing is an effective way to reduce consumption of sodas and other sweetened beverages, and contact Hawaii’s Governor and state legislators to support reintroduction and implementation of a tax bill.

(Disclaimer: This blog is only my personal opinion, and does not reflect the official position of any agency of the U.S. government.)

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7 Responses to “Hawaii needs a tax on sodas and other sweetened beverages.”

  1. mcunni25 Says:

    JP,
    Thank you for your thought provoking posting today. This is an interesting look at childhood obesity that examines everything from the demographic nature of the problem, to the behaviors within certain age groups that cause these problems to perpetuate. It seems as though the tax that you propose would certainly give the parents and communities an incentive to momentarily pause and contemplate the decisions related to nutritional choices that they are making for their children.
    I recently had a discussion with a dietitian with the State of Maryland who told me that so much of the problem is a lack of awareness and portion control in urban communities in the U.S. We certainly don’t help the problem with convenience stores on every corner with “value size” soda options that are often less expensive than water or juice.
    I remember reading an article published by NIH called “rethinking drinking” that discusses misperceptions on what “a drink” is. The article was specific to alcoholic drinks and aimed to make people aware of how much alcohol they were drinking, perceived portions, and the potential deleterious consequences from not monitoring how many “drinks” one consumes in a sitting. It was fascinating.
    http://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/What-counts-as-a-drink/Whats-A-Standard-Drink.aspx

    With that established, I wonder if we need a “rethinking drinking” campaign for soda in children and the deleterious consequences that you have thoroughly described in your post.
    Thanks again!

  2. bansarishah Says:

    This topic is important and interesting. It is something many cities have been working on and just as you pointed out, Hawaii can follow the lead of other cities that have placed taxes on sugar.

    I think policy is a great starting point to decrease obesity in Hawaii. It will be important to get all the stakeholders on board.

    Additionally, It may also be important to strengthen this policy change with education and alternative beverage options in grocery stores.

    Thanks for posting.

  3. angelalamacchia Says:

    This is an interesting piece and I hope that eventuallysuch legislation is passed. I know that this issue is certainly not limited to the US. Jamie Oliver has been a big advocate for similar movements in the UK. In Australia such ‘sugar taxes’ are still under debate as well. Have you ever watched “That Sugar Movie”? It’s by an Aussie actor who explores the role o sugar sweetened beverages in the US- it’s available on iTunes and netflix I believe. Worth a watch.

  4. jp Says:

    Thanks for your comments and information. You may also be interested in this:

    UK Government Proposes Sugar Tax. Bloomberg News (8/17, O’Donnell, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-17/u-k-to-use-sugar-tax-to-fight-child-obesity-boost-school-sport) reports that the UK government plans to challenge soft-drink companies with a sugar tax “to fund school sports and healthy-breakfast clubs as it plans further measures to cut sugar levels in children’s favorite foods.”

  5. atfoxblog Says:

    I don’t generally drink soda or SSB but if I did, the ‘rethink your drink’ poster would be enough to make me stop. Obesity is a multifaceted problem requiring a multidisciplinary approach. If we continue on this current path, todays children will actually be less healthy and die younger than their parents. We definitely need better education about diet, nutrition, and exercise so that people make healthier choices. In addition, we need to make healthier food more affordable than less healthy choices. Unfortunately, this requires time, resources, interest and sustainability because change will be a long term not a short term process.

    I have followed the controversy about ‘soda taxes’ with interest. I am not in favor of a soda tax without increased resources being allocated to the many other issues that contribute to obesity. However, if a soda tax will decrease consumption and help to fund other programs then I am on board as long as results can be demonstrated.

    I do like that you referred to it as a sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax rather than a soda tax. Calling it a soda tax is misleading and limits the ‘negativity’ to soda. I find that my patients are often aware that soda contains a lot of sugar but do not consider the high sugar (and calorie) content in juices, electrolyte drinks, energy drinks and the ever present Starbucks specialty coffee drinks. For every 12 ounces, RedBull has 40 grams sugar, Gatorade has 21 grams, Coke has 39 grams, Lemonade has 24 grams, and a Starbucks white chocolate mocha without whipped cream has 45 grams.

    Here are a couple of links if anyone is interested:

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743#t=article

    https://news.starbucks.com/uploads/documents/nutrition.pdf

  6. atfoxblog Says:

    I don’t generally drink soda or SSB but if I did, the ‘rethink your drink’ poster would be enough to make me stop. Obesity is a multifaceted problem requiring a multidisciplinary approach. If we continue on this current path, todays children will actually be less healthy and die younger than their parents. We definitely need better education about diet, nutrition, and exercise so that people make healthier choices. In addition, we need to make healthier food more affordable than less healthy choices. Unfortunately, this requires time, resources, interest and sustainability because change will be a long term not a short term process.

    I have followed the controversy about ‘soda taxes’ with interest. I am not in favor of a soda tax without increased resources being allocated to the many other issues that contribute to obesity. However, if a soda tax will decrease consumption and help to fund other programs then I am on board as long as results can be demonstrated.

    I do like that you referred to it as a sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax rather than a soda tax. Calling it a soda tax is misleading and limits the ‘negativity’ to soda. I find that my patients are often aware that soda contains a lot of sugar but do not consider the high sugar (and calorie) content in juices, electrolyte drinks, energy drinks and the ever present Starbucks specialty coffee drinks. For every 12 ounces, RedBull has 40 grams sugar, Gatorade has 21 grams, Coke has 39 grams, Lemonade has 24 grams, and a Starbucks white chocolate mocha without whipped cream has 45 grams.

    Here are a couple of links if anyone is interested:

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743#t=article

  7. atfoxblog Says:

    Here is the second link for the previous comment:

    https://news.starbucks.com/uploads/documents/nutrition.pdf

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