The health of both our city’s economy and residents is at risk. Right now our state is paralyzed by a gaping $9 billion budget gap that threatens to disrupt vital city services. And right now obesity and diabetes rates have reached epidemic levels across New York, especially among our children. We can make real progress on both of these profound challenges by passing the state soda tax: a penny-per-ounce tax on the sugary beverages that can lead to obesity.
Over the past several months, New Yorkers have witnessed too much politics and too little progress in solving our state’s fiscal nightmare. As the budget negotiations drag, common-sense solutions that both help close our record deficits and improve the health of New Yorkers should be a top priority. The governor’s latest modified “soda tax” proposal would raise $815 million in funding for the state.
Over the past two years, New York’s fiscal health has declined, and so has our physical health. In New York City, 55 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and a startlingly high 40 percent of East Harlem’s children are obese.
The more we move to close the budget gap, including raising revenue for health care jobs, the greater chance we will have to preserve funds for other city resources, such as teacher jobs and child-care and child-welfare preventive services; Section 8 vouchers for needy New Yorkers; and fire companies. Any version of the soda tax passed by the state could go a long way toward ensuring our city budget does not spell disaster for essential services that New Yorkers depend on.
Over the past two years, New York’s fiscal health has declined, and so has our physical health. In New York City, 55 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and a startlingly high 40 percent of East Harlem’s children are obese. The rate of diabetes, which is a direct result of being overweight, has doubled in New York since 1994, and the New York State Department of Health estimates that by 2050 it will double again. According to the state, the cost of treating diabetes every year in New York is an astonishing $7.4 billion-higher than anywhere else in the country. The soda tax will help begin to reverse these disturbing trends. And studies have shown that the more our kids drink sugary beverages, the less they drink milk and other healthier options, depriving them of the important nutrients they need to grow.
The New England Journal of Medicine found that a penny-per-ounce tax could reduce sugary drink consumption by as much as 10 percent. Additionally, a recent University of Buffalo study found that taxing unhealthy food is a more effective way to fight obesity than simply making healthy foods like fruits and vegetables more affordable.
That kind of soda consumption drop-off could help the average New Yorker lose 2 to 3 pounds per year. We all know how hard it is to lose weight; the best strategy is to avoid putting it on in the first place, and reducing the intake of such beverages can make it easier to do so.
Rarely does a budget proposal have such wide-ranging effects on not just the fiscal but the physical health of citizens, but the soda tax does just that. We know that the major soda corporations and their lobbyists are pumping lots of money into their effort to kill this initiative because they worry it might impact their profits. Rather than bowing to the soda lobby, New York’s legislators need to realize this proposal is a win-win for the state. I urge them to join me in supporting it.
Bill de Blasio is the New York City public advocate.