High rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic health conditions have doctors supporting local, state and national policies on reducing the amount of sugary beverages that kids drink.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a joint statement Monday with the American Heart Association that said states should take public health measures, including implementing an excise tax, to help families cut down on sugary sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and soda.
Dr. Sandra Carbonari, medical director for the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said studies show that “implementing a tax on sugary drinks is one of the most cost effective ways to do that.”
Connecticut may already be heading in that direction. Gov. Ned Lamont included an excise tax on sugary drinks in his proposed fiscal budget plan. It would include a tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages.
If the proposal makes it into the final budget, Connecticut will become the first to pass a sugary drink tax on a statewide level.
Cities like Philadelphia; Seattle; San Francisco; Boulder, Colorado; and Berkeley, Albany and Oakland, all in California, have passed their own excise taxes on sugary drinks.
Academy experts said national dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that children and teens consume fewer than 10 percent of their calories from added sugars, but data show they actually consume 17 percent from added sugars, nearly half of which come from drinks.
Children from low-income communities are disproportionately affected by having low-cost, easy access to sugary beverages, reports show.
Other actions to address the issue could include limits on marketing to children and financial incentives for buying healthier beverages, experts said in the joint statement.
“We know what works to protect kids’ health and it’s time we put effective policies in place that bring down rates of sugary drink consumption just like we’ve done with tobacco,” Rachel K. Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and former chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, said in a statement.
For parents and families who want to start limiting sugary drink intake, Carbonari said they can gradually start introducing healthier beverages. Learning how to read nutrition labels and teaching children can help, too, she said.
Carbonari said revenue made from any excise taxes should be reinvested in education and prevention programs that teach families about the relationship between good nutrition and health.
State policy experts say the proposed excise tax in Connecticut would begin July 1, 2020, and yield an estimated $163.1 million dollars. The budget does not include details on how that money would be spent.
“Habits started early, so the earlier you start with the good habits, the better off the child is, and sometimes, hopefully, we can affect the whole family,” Carbonari said. “We can help parents improve their own nutritional status through how they’re looking at what they’re feeding their children.”