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Proposed Calif. Soda Tax Would Fund Youth Anti-Obesity Programs

A study released today suggests that a proposed 1-cent-per-ounce tax added to sodas and other sweetened drinks in California would raise $1.7 billion statewide every year, which would all go toward the creation of childhood-obesity-prevention programs.

The study, "Helping Cash-Strapped Communities Protect Children's Health," predicts that the proposed soda tax would raise $233 per student in California each year. The state board of equalization released the total $1.7 billion/year estimateRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader two weeks ago.

The proposed tax bill would create a "Children's Health Promotion Fund," which would distribute all the tax revenues to four different types of youth-obesity-prevention programs. According to the bill, 35 percent of the soda taxes would be allocated to community-based childhood-obesity programs; 35 percent would go to elementary and secondary schools for physical education and programs that promote nutrition; 20 percent would go toward coordinating statewide childhood-obesity-prevention activities; and the remaining 10 percent would fund medically based obesity-prevention and -monitoring programs.

"The science linking sugary drinks to the obesity epidemic is rock solid," said study author Harold Goldstein, the executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, according to the Contra Costa Times. "It's time to make sure that the cost of these beverages includes the social cost of the harm they are doing." According to a 2007 study cited in Goldstein's report, Americans have increased their daily calorie intake by 222 calories per person over the past few decades, largely due to "calorically sweetened beverages."

As I reported last week, childhood obesity is particularly concerning because overweight teens are at a much higher risk of contracting heart disease, regardless of their adult weight.

How did the study arrive at the $233 per-student figure? California has a state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 98, which guarantees a certain percentage of all new state tax revenue goes to K-12 schools and community colleges (based on a complex formula). Goldstein's study assumed that 50 percent of the revenues from the soda tax—a total of $850 million—would go directly to classrooms to satisfy the Proposition 98 guarantee of funding. The remaining $850 million would be divided and distributed into the four percentages laid out above.

Overall, according to Goldstein's study, $850 million of the soda tax revenue would go directly into California classrooms, roughly $300 million would go toward the improvement of schools' physical education and healthy-lunch programs, and another roughly $300 million would go toward youth-sports and after-school programs. That's a total of approximately $1.45 billion—or 85 percent of the total soda tax revenue—heading directly into the budgets of schools and local community programs, distributed based on population. The other 15 percent of the tax revenues would fund statewide obesity prevention efforts and medically-based obesity prevention and intervention programs.

It's also important to note that while the bill is frequently referred to as a "soda tax," it actually targets all sweetened beverages that contain any added caloric sweeteners. So, not only is the bill after your Coke and Pepsi, it's also after any fruit or vegetable beverage containing 10 percent or less of natural-fruit or natural-vegetable juice as well. Coffee, tea, infant formula, and any product containing milk or milk products would not be taxed under this bill.

The California Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee will hear the proposed soda tax bill this coming Monday, April 25.

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