I very much appreciate the fact that the Times editorial staff took the time to comment on Richmond's soda tax. Unfortunately, its lack of scientific knowledge resulted in a poor recommendation. This is to be expected since much of the science is new and since much of the opposition's arguments are meant to confuse, not clarify.
The paper seems to think no direct link exists between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity, diabetes, premature heart disease and cancers. It is wrong. The medical literature is full of articles demonstrating a definitive link. It is irresponsible for the Times to put out this false information to the public.
The editorial states: "sugar is one of many contributors to obesity. And soda is just one form of sugar delivery. Once we start down the path of taxing soda, what else should be included? Butter? Hamburgers? Cheesecake? Snow cones? Donuts? It's a slippery slope."
Sugar is not only "one of many contributors to the obesity epidemic." Liquid sugar is by far the main contributor to the obesity epidemic. The epidemic is not just about obesity, it is about diabetes, premature heart attacks and some cancers. It's not about being overweight. It's about dying young.
Butter, hamburgers, cheesecake and doughnuts are solid foods that go through the digestive system. All have some nutritional value. Sugar-sweetened beverages have none.
Liquids immediately enter the blood stream upon ingestion. For 150,000 years, we have satisfied our needs for liquids with water alone. That's what the body expects.
But instead we mix huge amounts of sugar in with the water. The sugar is made up of two molecules, glucose and fructose.
The glucose causes a spike in serum insulin levels. When insulin is circulating, we lay down fat and we are unable to break down fat. These high insulin levels predispose to fat accumulation. High insulin levels also promote cancer growth. Meanwhile, the fructose goes straight to the liver, where much of it is converted to fat.
It's not the fat we see that is the problem. It's the fat we don't see. The liver itself gets packed with fat and makes the liver insulin-resistant. The pancreas overworks to compensate and eventually fails, leading to diabetes.
The liver also makes the kind of fats (small, dense LDL particles) that plug up the coronary arteries leading to premature heart attacks. That's why men who drink one can of soda a day have a 20 percent increased risk of having a heart attack compared with men who don't drink soda.
Much of this science is new and obviously not known to the Times editorial board. But much of the medical community is now aware of it and that is why the California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics "applauds the Richmond City Council of behalf of the health of California's children ... and strongly endorses" the Richmond soda tax. It's also why the American Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Public Health Association all support taxing sugar-sweetened beverages.
The editorial further claims: "Excess weight and obesity cannot be curtailed with a tax." Does this paper know better than the United States' top doctor for prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said that the sugar-sweetened beverage tax "could be the single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic"?
There is incontrovertible scientific evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages to overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, premature heart attacks and cancer. If we don't intervene successfully our children will lose years of life. The country's best medical minds are supporting the Richmond soda tax.
Let's make history and begin to reverse the obesity/diabetes/premature heart attack/cancer epidemic right here in Richmond. Vote yes on N, yes on O.
Jeff Ritterman, M.D., is a member of the Richmond City Council.