Health Experts Unite in Support of a Soft Drink Tax
A prominent group of public health and economics experts have called for taxes to be levied on sugar-sweetened beverages. Their report, “The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages,” suggests that such taxes could lower obesity rates, recoup some of the nation’s enormous obesity-related health care costs, and generate revenue for child nutrition and obesity-prevention programs. The authors cited numerous studies that link weight gain to increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The authors of the report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, include Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director; Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, Director of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, Harvard School of Public Health; Barry M. Popkin, PhD, University of North Carolina; Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago; Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH, Arkansas Surgeon General; and David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School.
A California lawmaker plans to hold hearings in November to examine the connection between obesity and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. His announcement coincides with the release of a study of 40,000 California adults showing that those who drank at least one soda per day were more likely to be overweight than those who did not.
Dr. Brownell said a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be unique because of four features: “It would have immediate impact. It would have a beneficial effect on the nation’s diet. Unlike education programs, it costs nothing. And it would generate considerable revenue that could support key health programs. I know of no other approach that meets all these criteria.”
Rudd Center Releases New Policy Brief on Soft Drink Taxes
The Rudd Center’s new policy brief, a resource for policy makers and concerned citizens, offers results of scientific research on issues concerning soft drinks and consumption trends, health effects, price change effects, and public support. It outlines policy recommendations for a soft drink tax, suggestions for use of the revenue, and arguments for and against such taxes.
Institute of Medicine Points to Local Governments for Childhood Obesity Prevention
In its September report, “Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity,” the Institute of Medicine (IOM) highlighted a number of strategies including menu labeling, taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, and improving WIC participants’ access to healthy foods.
The IOM report recommends approaches to enable local leaders to act promptly and effectively “to improve the places where children live and play.” The community focus is essential, the report says, because it is where many decisions are made about “land use, food marketing, community planning, transportation, health and nutrition.”
“Local governments are ideally positioned to promote behaviors that will help children and adolescents reach and maintain healthy weights,” according to the report, which was written by the IOM’s Committee on Childhood Prevention Actions for Local Governments.
The report, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlines six goals and strategies to achieve them. The report is organized into two overarching themes, “actions for healthy eating” and “actions for increasing physical activity,” and reflects the strongest, evidence-based, childhood obesity prevention information available. For example, the strategy for improving access to healthy foods involves awareness, education, and policy measures such as taxes, incentives, and land use and zoning regulations.
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Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH
Melinda L. Irwin is Associate Professor in the Division of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Social, and Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health. Her primary research interests include energy balance and cancer prevention and prognosis.
Trained in cancer epidemiology and exercise physiology, Dr. Irwin’s research examines the effect of exercise and weight loss on breast and ovarian cancer prognosis. She is currently the principal investigator of two randomized controlled trials funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The studies look at the impact of exercise on side effects of aromatase inhibitors, which lower estrogen levels and slow cancer growth, in breast cancer survivors and ovarian cancer prognosis and survivorship.
In addition, Dr. Irwin is involved in the Health, Eating, Activity and Lifestyle (HEAL) Study. The prospective study of 1,182 women with breast cancer, funded by the NCI, examines associations among weight, physical activity, diet, quality of life, serum hormones, and other prognostic factors on survival. Dr. Irwin is also a co-investigator on the NCI-funded Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Study, which focuses on research related to energy balance and cancer risk and prognosis.
Dr. Irwin has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, and has presented her research nationally. She has served on various research review committees for the NCI, Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the American Cancer Society, as well as on advisory committees to develop consensus statements on physical activity and cancer prognosis.
Dr. Irwin holds degrees from the College of William and Mary, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of South Carolina in Columbia, and University of Washington in Seattle.
USDA Provides $65 Million to Improve Access to Healthy Food
The USDA has launched “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,” a new initiative to support local agriculture. With an initial $65 million, the program will support local and regional food systems and help strengthen sustainable agricultural ventures.
“Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families, and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.
Some of the funds will be used to select Community Food Projects in 14 states to help improve food security and to develop local food systems. Sustainable agriculture components of the 2008 Farm Bill inspired this initiative. The USDA plans to continue investing in opportunities that will help local agriculture grow and prosper.
“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is also promoting an exchange of ideas among Americans. The USDA is asking people to share their thoughts via E-mail and YouTube. The Rudd Center invites you to join the conversation.
The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts
David B. Abrams, PhD
Executive Director, Steven A. Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, American Legacy Foundation
• Changing Systems to Improve Health
• Lessons Learned from the Tobacco Wars
Alison E. Field, ScD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School; Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
• Preventing Weight Gain: What Should We Recommend?
Joshua Freedman, MD
Associate Clinical Professor, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior; Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, FKF Applied Research, LLC
Our collection of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine – Nutrition & Obesity section, or you may subscribe to an RSS Feed that will automatically update whenever new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.