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  Tax a Cola, Prevent a Heart Attack
June 2, 2012

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Tax a cola, prevent a heart attack

Jeff Ritterman, in the SF Chronicle
Friday, June 1, 2012
Sugar-sweetened beverages have been shown to cause heart attacks, diabetes, weight gain, stroke and some cancers. A man who drinks one can of sugary soda a day has a 20 percent increased risk of a heart attack compared with his neighbor who does not drink soda. We need to discourage soda drinking because impaired health and obesity are devastating to individuals and costly to our community. That is why I have proposed the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax in Richmond and why New York City plans to sale the sale of ban 16-ounce and larger drinks in delis, fast-food franchises and sports arenas beginning in March.
When we drink a cola beverage, the liver is presented all at once with an overwhelming dose of sugar. The liver simply cannot handle such huge doses by the usual metabolic pathway, so the excess sugar is shunted into alternative pathways that result in the body producing fat. We are aware of the fat we see around our waistlines, but we are oblivious to the fat we don't see.
The liver itself gets filled with fat and then begins to malfunction. The fatty liver becomes insulin resistant - that is, it simply becomes "deaf" to the hormonal signal it receives from insulin, the substance our body secretes to use sugar. The pancreas responds by making the hormonal signal louder by making more insulin. Eventually the overworked pancreas poops out. The result: diabetes.
Unhealthy fats also circulate in the blood and, over time, plug up the arteries that supply blood to the heart. When the coronary arteries get blocked, the individual suffers a heart attack. The portion of heart muscle downstream from the blockage dies as a result of the lack of blood flow.
The science here is clear: The sugary drink causes untold harm. That's why the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax is supported by the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics (that's right: your kid's doctor's organization), the American Public Health Association and the United Nations.
Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country's head doc when it comes to prevention, said that a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages might be "the single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic."
Fully one-third of Richmond's African American and Latino fifth- and seventh-graders are obese. Obese children are those who weigh more than 95 percent of children of the same height. If we are not successful in discouraging behaviors that lead to weight gain - like drinking soda - most of these children and those who follow after them will have shorter lives than their parents.
If we put our children's health and well-being front and center, we will make the right choice and support measures that discourage drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Jeff Ritterman is the retired chief of cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center. He is a member of the Richmond City Council.