There are so many ways that poor children of color are at a disadvantage in our society, and sadly one of them is as basic as what they put into their bodies and what diseases they get. Consumption of soda and other sugary drinks is on the rise, and it is not just a matter of personal choice. Children are influenced by what they see around them.
The beverage industry knows this and markets sugary drinks much more frequently in low income communities of color than in more affluent communities. Latino kids see twice as many soda ads as white kids, according to a study released in 2015 by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. The result: Latino and African-American children drink twice as much soda.
The result of this increase in sugary drinks is an epidemic of type 2 diabetes that has hit people of color most dramatically. Half of all Latino and African American children will develop type 2 diabetes in their life. And, as your mother taught you, sugar causes cavities. Children in low income families have twice as many untreated cavities — a leading cause of absence from school that leads to lower academic achievement.
The problems caused by high soda consumption are not only costly to society as a whole, but reflect a failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. On top of being subjected to copious advertising for unhealthy beverages, children in low income communities also have much less access to healthy foods, clean water, safe places to play, and the sports and recreation activities that middle income families take for granted.
Our children deserve better from us. This is why the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the California School-Based Health Alliance are co-sponsoring AB 2782, which will place a 2 cent per ounce fee on distributors of sugary drinks, generating $3 billion annually. This is a very significant amount of money that can make a real dent in fighting the diseases caused by so much soda. It will be used to increase access to farmers markets and make healthy foods and water more available.
Funds will also help schools deliver programs and services to help children prevent diabetes and tooth decay. The funds will be specifically targeted to communities with the highest rates of diabetes. It is a small but important first step in correcting the inequities in our society to give every child, no matter where he or she lives, an equal shot at a healthy and productive future.
Serena Clayton, PhD, is the Executive Director of the California School-Based Health Alliance, an Oakland-based statewide nonprofit that aims to increase access to health care for kids at school.