Health Commissioner Asks Staten Islanders to Support Soda Tax

S.I. has State's 2nd Highest Obesity Rate; Sugar-Sweetened Beverages are the Link

NEW YORK (March 12, 2010) – Staten Island has the state's second-highest obesity rate, as well as the second-highest consumption of sugar-sweetened beverage, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., noted today in advance of a rally today at Coca Cola Sales and Distribution Facility, 400 Western Ave., Staten Island.

"I am concerned for the health of Staten Islanders," Commissioner Daines said. "Sixty-five percent of Staten Island residents are overweight or obese, and 35 percent of them drink one or more cans of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda every day. The American Dietetic Association has found that the biggest common factor among overweight people is drinking sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks with added sugar. The director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is the best step we can take to stem the rising obesity rates."

Commissioner Daines urged the Legislature to pass the proposed penny-per-ounce tax on soft drinks that have more than 10 calories per eight ounces and contain less than 70 percent fruit juice.

Dr. Daines disputes beverage industry scare tactics that claim the tax will cause job losses. "As consumers shift to healthier, lower-calorie drinks, the industry is well positioned with numerous zero- and low-calorie beverages produced, bottled distributed and sold by the same companies," he said. "People will spend more money on low-cal and diet drinks. I hope they also drink nutritious low-fat milk."

"I would ask Senators Andrew J. Lanza and Diane J. Savino as well as state Assembly Members Michael J. Cusick, Janele Hyer-Spencer, Matthew Titone and Lou Tobacco: What are they doing about the alarming obesity rates in their borough?" Dr. Daines asked. "Parents on Staten Island do a fine job raising their children to eat right and exercise. But the deck is stacked against them. The scientific research has shown that hundreds of millions of dollars of soda advertising relentlessly directed at our children has had Big Beverage's desired effect: We all drink too much soda. And public health education will never have enough money to fight off that marketing push."

The tax is supported by the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York Academy of Medicine; the state Dental Association; state Academy of Family Physicians and several of New York City's largest health care providers, including Harlem Hospital Center; Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, Metropolitan Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council. Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also support the tax.

"Sugared soft drinks are the only food or beverage that has been shown to increase the risk of overweight and obesity, which increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other costly and debilitating chronic diseases," Dr. Daines said. "Multiple studies and published research support an excise tax of 1 cent per ounce as a mechanism that will result in a reduction in calories consumed of at least 10 percent, which will be sufficient for weight loss and a lower risk of chronic disease."

"We know increasing the price of sugared sodas will reduce consumption," Dr. Daines added. "We've seen that cigarette tax increases have helped steadily reduce the number of smokers in New York. Soda companies have developed a number of low-cal alternatives. A tax on sugary beverages will stimulate soda companies to make even more diet drinks, and if it discourages kids to drink one less can of soda a week, it will begin to turn the tide."

All revenues from the proposed tax will be directed at health care programs, Dr. Daines noted. "This will preserve jobs in health care, preventing devastating service cuts, and our obesity prevention efforts will begin to drive down the high costs of health care to treat obesity-related diseases."