Rhode Island Hopes to Join States with Sugary Drink Tax

Sugary drinks can contribute to obesity and disease, especially for children of color.

A rising number of U.S. states and cities are hoping to curb consumption of soda, juice, and other beverages through a number of regulations, including implementing a sugary drink tax.

Sugary drink taxes are shown to reduce the number of sugary drink purchases. They also raise money for local health programs.

In Rhode Island, legislators hope to pass a sugary drink tax to help provide food to the hungry amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to State Sen. Valerie Lawson.

“The pandemic has shined a glaring light on food insecurity in our state,” Lawson said, according to UPRISE RI. “Recently, Rhode Island Kids Count released their annual Fact Book showing that the pandemic had a disproportionate effect on our children, particularly those of color. According to the Rhode Island Food Bank, one-in-four Rhode Islanders go hungry – one of the highest rates in the nation – particularly our most vulnerable constituents – seniors, communities of color, low-income populations and our children.”

The Proposed Sugary Drink Tax and Its Potential Impacts

Rhode Island’s sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB)—S0327 and H5715—tax would raise funds to address the state’s alarming rates of hunger and food insecurity.

This proposed bill would “generate revenue that will be directed to address the hunger crisis many Rhode Island families are experiencing. Currently, one in four Rhode Island households do not receive adequate nutrition,” says Rhode Island Public Health Institute (RIPHI).

“The revenue from this small 1.5 cent per ounce sugary drinks tax will be used to fund a Retail SNAP Incentive Program, which will provide low-income families with a 50% discount on their fresh fruit and vegetable purchases at retail grocery stores when they pay with their SNAP benefits.”

Members of the community are fighting in favor of the bill. Sugary Drink Tax Rhode Island

“This bill would make a huge difference in my life and the life of my newborn son,” Andrea Heath, a Rhode Island mother and community, said. “As a new mom who is currently breastfeeding, I understand how important it is to have a diet that is full of fresh fruit and vegetables. It provides my newborn son with the vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals essential for his development and my own.”

This legislation is critical in improving the health of people and children in Rhode Island.

“When patients ask me, as a physician, what is the number one thing they can do to lose weight or if they’re pre-diabetic, my answer is always to reduce your consumption of soda and other sugary beverages,” said Dr, Philip Chan, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Brown University. “It’s literally one of the best things we can do health-wise besides quitting smoking or exercising.”

Sugary Drink Taxes and How They Work

These kinds of regulations can make a big difference in public health.

A soda tax can reduce purchases of sugary drinks, according to a recent study from Mathematica Policy Research and others.

Researchers examined the impact of soda taxes in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Oakland. They compared changes in household monthly purchases to nearby cities and a matched set of households nationally.

A 1-cent-per-ounce tax decreased household purchases of taxed sugary beverages by 53 ounces per month—a 12.2% decrease.

“This impact is small in magnitude and consistent with a reduction in individual consumption of 5 calories per day per household member and eventual reduction in weight of 0.5 pounds,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Seattle’s sugary drink sales dropped by 30%.

Researchers found a slight decrease in consumption, too.

Lower-income children in Seattle are drinking less soda than before the soda tax. But so are children who live outside the city, The Seattle Times reports.

In Philadelphia, a new study from Drexel University found that a year after the soda tax, 39% of participants inside the city and 34% of participants from neighboring areas said that they had consumed fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Although this proportion may seem significant, for Philadelphians, it actually only translates to consuming three fewer drinks per month,” according to the study, wrote Medical News Today. “This is not at all a drastic change from the trends at baseline.”

Sugary Drink Taxes and How They Fund Health Programs

Cities are using sugary drink tax revenue to boost health.

This includes:

  • Berkeley, Calif. (11.4% Latino): This city implemented the first U.S. sugary drinks tax. The Praxis Project’s video series shows how tax revenue is making people healthier, from schools to families to the arts.
  • San Francisco (15.2% Latino): Revenue from the 1 cent-per-ounce tax funds preventive health services in low-income communities. It also funds programs to improve school nutrition and oral health.
  • Seattle (18.3% Latino): Revenue from the 1.75 cent-per-ounce tax funds programs that help low-income people buy healthy food. It also helps subsidize schools and child care centers to increase servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Philadelphia (15.2% Latino): A 1.5-cent-per-ounce Sweetened Beverage Tax took effect January 2017. The measure is working, health experts say. Revenue is going to early childcare programs. It also is improving local parks, though progress is slow.
  • Other cities have passed such taxes, including Albany and Oakland, Calif., as well as Boulder, Colo. They are also funding public health prevention programs.

“This positive impact is magnified by the fact that the revenue from the tax is being invested in health and wellness,” said Nancy Brown of the American Heart Association in a statement.

How You Can Help

The bill is currently in committee, where advocates say there was a positive reception among state legislators.

“They appeared to be very receptive,” Dr. Amy Nunn, the executive director of the R.I. Public Health Institute said in a recent statement. “We had an amazing turnout from the advocates. People were overwhelmingly receptive to the idea [of a tax on sugary drinks] and also the reinvestment in promoting healthy eating among people who shop with SNAP.

Still, there is work that needs to be done.

“I think that what we really need now is a groundswell of community participation in our lobbying and advocacy efforts,” Nunn said. “The most important thing is for people to contact their legislators if they are in favor of it. And we have a tool that you can use on our website to do so.”

It’s time to start making changes, according to Brianne K. Nadeau, the Washington, D.C., City Council member who introduced the legislation.

“The District can no longer wait to address these health disparities head on,” Nadeau wrote in a statement. “It must identify areas where public health interventions and investments can make a difference in the health and lives of our communities.”

Sugary drink taxes are among five pediatrician-approved recommendations to limit sugary drinks:

  1. Raise the price of sugary drinks.
  2. Reduce sugary drink marketing to children and teens.
  3. Remove sugary drinks from kid’s menus. Emphasize healthy drink options.
  4. Add accurate nutrition labels and information.
  5. Hospital should serve as models with policies to limit or discourage purchase of sugary drinks.

Salud America! also created an Action Pack to help school leaders push for Water Bottle Fountains. This refillable water station can boost access to water for Latino and all kids.


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