Legislation that would impose a fee on distributors of sugary drinks and create a dedicated revenue source to address the alarming health impacts of childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease failed the Assembly Health Committee today by four votes. The Legislation, AB 1357, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and jointly sponsored by the American Heart Association, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and California Dental Association and supported by numerous health advocates around the state, would generate an estimated $3 billion a year to prevent and treat obesity, diabetes, heart and dental disease. Currently, California does not allocate any state funds towards the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

“I am disappointed that the committee failed to act today on one of the biggest health crises facing our nation,” said Bloom. “Diabetes is now the seventh largest cause of death in the nation. If current trends aren’t reversed, one-in-three children born after 2000-and specifically one-in-two African-American or Hispanic children-are expected to develop type 2 diabetes. The overwhelming view of health experts is that the single most significant cause of obesity and diabetes is over consumption of sugar.”

Since 1977, Americans have doubled their intake of sugar and consume approximately 300 more calories per day. Sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas, sweetened teas, sports drinks, sweetened waters and fruit flavored drinks, account for 43 percent of that increase, and the average American now drinks more than 45 gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages per year. In 1980, there were no Type 2 diabetes cases among adolescents. In 2010, there were approximately 58,000 cases. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of American teens that has diabetes or pre-diabetes has increased from nine percent to 25 percent.

Across California, low-income communities of all types face great barriers to healthy lifestyles. Obesity and diabetes are costing the state billions every year in hospitalization and Medicare costs. In fact, one estimate has it that 75 percent of every healthcare dollar goes to maintenance or treatment of chronic metabolic disease.

While Type 2 diabetes is fully preventable, once diagnosed, people face many complications that combine to lower both quality of life and life expectancy. These include hypoglycemia, hypertension, heightened death rates from cardio-vascular disease, higher risk of heart attack and stroke, blindness and eye problems, kidney disease and amputations. In 2010 alone, about 73,000 non-traumatic lower limb amputations were performed in adults aged 20 years or older with diagnosed diabetes. Doctors are reporting strokes in 8 year olds, heart attacks in 10 year olds and 30 year olds on dialysis for kidney failure.

By imposing a health impact fee on sugar sweetened beverages, the largest source of sugar in the American diet, the state will be able to distribute funding to programs that seek to fight childhood obesity and diabetes. Funds collected through this legislation would also go back into the community to improve participation in physical activity, promote access to healthy fruits and vegetables for kids, and to fund oral health programs. Parents and children, particularly those in disadvantaged communities will have new access to information about nutrition and other healthy lifestyle choices.

“Across the nation and in California, diabetes and heart disease have reached epidemic proportions. Regardless of this reality, the beverage industry continues to market larger sized bottles and fountain drinks and their products are front and center at every grocery store. Much like the tobacco industry did for decades, the industry’s marketing practices have preyed on our children. There are zero health benefits to drinking these beverages and public health experts agree that a reduction in consumption is imperative. It saddens me that the Legislature, once again, failed to address this crisis head on. The evidence shows that epidemic grows worse with time,” added Bloom.

“Californians are becoming increasingly overweight – consuming more empty calories per day – and the number one cause is consumption of sugar sweetened beverages,” said Kathy Rogers, Executive Vice President, American Heart Association, Western States Affiliate. “For example, a Super Big Gulp, which is 44 oz., has approximately 523 calories and the equivalent of 35 teaspoons of sugar. That’s nearly six times what the American Heart Association recommends for most women in one day. We should aim to protect the health of our children and families.”

“We are tired of burying our family members from Type 2 diabetes. It is a tragedy that this disease is so prevalent in our community that many Latinos now believe that getting diabetes is normal. The revenue from AB 1357 will establish a long overdue, sustained funding source for diabetes prevention in California, prioritizing communities with the highest diabetes rates,” says Xavier Morales, Executive Director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

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