By Chris Adams
Sugary sodas have long been the bane of public health advocates, who document the drinks’ links to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other ailments.
But getting the public to curb its appetite for Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and every other choice in the soda aisle has been difficult. Americans change their diets slowly, and public health efforts have more often than not fallen flat, despite evidence that soda taxes do reduce consumption of the drinks.
But one city where they did pass was Boulder, Colorado; in 2016, voters in that college town northwest of Denver, passed a 2 cents-per-ounce tax on distributors of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. According to The Denver Post, it’s the steepest tax among seven U.S. cities with similar measures; it went into effect in July 2017, and is expected to generate close to $4 million in revenue during its first full year, the Post reported.
At the nonprofit group Healthier Colorado, Executive Director Jake Williams sees the effort as part of a broader movement to help build a public health movement in the U.S. In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Williams gave a historical overview of public health political efforts going back more than 100 years; he then described Healthier Colorado’s current efforts on soda taxes and other issues.
“There is a lack of a public health movement,” Williams said. Think of all the groups weighing in on the repeal-Obamacare bills in Congress in 2017, he said: With the exception of AARP, most represent physicians, hospitals, insurers and public systems. “There’s no organization representing people or patients. And there’s been real consequences for that.”
Williams discussed other efforts in Colorado. In addition to the soda tax in Boulder – which will be used to fund access to healthy food, nutrition education and exercise programs – the group has worked on campaigns to improve mental health treatment and to boost taxes on tobacco (that ballot measure failed).