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California voters say soda can make you fat

February 14, 2013|By Mary MacVean | This post has been updated. See note below.
  • California voters say they support actions such as a soda tax to help curb obesity.
California voters say they support actions such as a soda tax to help curb… (Bloomberg )

Nearly 70% of California voters say taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is a good idea if the money goes to school nutrition and physical activity programs, according to a Field Poll released Thursday.

That figure declines if the question is just whether they favor such a tax, with 53% opposed and 40% in favor. 

The results were released a day after the Washington-based nutrition advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, asking it to set limits for sweeteners in non-alcoholic beverages. CSPI cited obesity levels and attendant diseases such as diabetes.

The trade group the American Beverage Assn., in its response to the FDA request, noted that it had introduced many beverages with fewer calories than regular drinks.

In the Field Poll, 75% of the voters, including 85% of Latinos, say regularly drinking sweetened sodas increases the chance of becoming overweight. Fewer voters, 42%, said the same for energy drinks, and 26% for sports drinks.

[Updated 3:59 p.m. Feb. 14: The beverage association’s California office noted the 60% who did not favor a tax when the question was asked without restriction on the funds.

The approval for improvements to playgrounds and other measures, the trade group said, is “in line with two recent local elections” in Richmond and El Monte – which voted against a soda tax.

“Soda taxes have failed in cities and states across the country over the past few years,” Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement. Education, not taxes or regulations, he said, are the “right approach” to fighting obesity.]

The poll also found:

--Eighty-three percent supported providing funds to improve school athletic fields and other physical education facilities, and 82% supported keeping those places open after school and on weekends.

--More than 75% favor government policies and funding to attract more farmers markets, produce stands and supermarkets selling produce in low-income neighborhoods.

--Seventy-five percent supported limiting the types of unhealthy foods and drinks provided in childcare centers, preschools and nursery schools. And 85% said it was important to provide fresh, clean drinking water for free in schools; 74% supported that in parks and playgrounds.

“These findings confirm that widespread support exists for policies that combat obesity, including significant support for a tax on junk drinks to help finance school nutrition and physical activity programs,” said Dr. Robert Ross, president of the endowment. “Support for these efforts is even greater in communities that carry the greatest burden of illness and costs from obesity-related conditions."

"These latest polling results are very important. They show that not only do a large majority of California voters now know that sugary sodas are a leading cause of obesity and diabetes, but they are ready to do something meaningful about them,” Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said in a statement. “Almost 70% of Californians -- including 79% of Latinos and 70% of African Americans -- support a soda tax to improve school nutrition and physical activity programs."

The poll was conducted by telephone in October in six languages, among 1,185 California voters, part of a series conducted for the California Endowment. The sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

mary.macvean@latimes.com

@mmacvean on Twitter

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