The U.S. election results evoke concern, anxiety, and fear among many Americans, and throughout the world. Public health advocates are concerned about the future of the Affordable Care Act, fearful of restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and anxious to strengthen efforts to reduce smoking, obesity, and other risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
However, results from four down-ballot measures offer a glimmer of hope: voters in four cities approved taxes on sugary drinks. This small step forward in tackling epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes reconfirms that local governments can take meaningful action to promote public health. More than ever, strong leadership is required at local and state levels, and among advocates, researchers, and communities.
Taxes on sugary drinks are intended to discourage consumption by raising prices. They are an important tool to reduce consumption of added sugars, which are associated with increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. In 2014, Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. jurisdiction to pass an excise tax on sugary drinks. During the first year, consumption of sugary drinks fell by 21 percent in Berkeley’s low-income neighborhoods.
On November 8, voters in San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, California strongly supported penny-per-ounce tax measures. With almost all votes counted, San Francisco voters supported the measure by 62 percent, Oakland voters by 61 percent, and Albany voters by 70 percent. In Boulder, Colorado, around 55 percent of voters supported a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages.
The following week, the Board of Cook County, Illinois, adopted a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas. Home to more than five million residents, Cook County will surpass the City of Philadelphia as the largest U.S. jurisdiction to tax sodas.
The momentum building around soda taxes is clear. Local governments and public health advocates from San Francisco to Cook County to Philadelphia have shown that massive industry opposition to soda taxes can be overcome. As the new administration takes power, it is imperative that strong leaders continue to drive change and create healthier communities throughout the United States.