Philadelphia, June 7,, 2012– Today, Mayor Michael A. Nutter delivered a keynote address at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Inaugural National Soda Summit. Check remarks against delivery. The speech follows:
“I want to thank the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for hosting the Inaugural National Soda Summit.
I also want to thank Dr. Michael Jacobson, the Director of CSPI.
For those of you who do not know me, I am Michael Nutter, serving my second term as Mayor of Philadelphia – my hometown. I was born and raised in West Philadelphia.
I am dedicated to making Philadelphia a better city – to me that means being a greener, cleaner, safer and healthier city.
I try to live by example. I eat right, exercise and enjoy things in moderation.
As a politician, my approach to public health has been all-inclusive. Public health is about education, public safety, prevention and intervention, and sustainable green efforts.
As a Councilman, I organized a public hearing on childhood obesity. I saw this as an opportunity to prevent adult obesity as four out of five overweight children grow up to be obese adults.
As Mayor, I have worked to make Philadelphia a more walkable and bikeable city. In 2008, I issued a Complete Street Executive Order, instructing all City agencies to consider the needs of not just motorists, but also pedestrians and cyclists. We now have 20 new miles of bike lanes and a bike and pedestrian plan encompassing the entire city. Not to mention, we are the number one big city for bicycle commuting in the U.S.
I spent 15 years serving as a Councilman for the 4th District of Philadelphia. As a Councilman, I spent 6 years committed to fighting for a smoke-free Philadelphia.
Initially, the bar and restaurant industry was adamantly against the smoking ban. Citizens were opposed to it. Twice it stalled in Council. But after six long years, it passed and was signed into law, prohibiting smoking in all public places. I consider the Clean Indoor Air Worker Protection Act one of my greatest achievements.
In Philadelphia, smoking related complications are the leading cause of death. Diseases related to poor nutrition and physical inactivity are second behind smoking.
The truth is simple – obesity is an epidemic.
Over the last three decades, obesity rates have tripled.
In America, two-thirds of adults and a third of children are now overweight or obese.
In Philadelphia, two-thirds of adults and 40% of children are overweight or obese.
In some Philadelphia neighborhoods, more than half of children are overweight or obese.
African American children in Philadelphia have a 15% higher prevalence of obesity than white children in Philadelphia. Hispanic children are 25% more likely than white children to be overweight or obese.
Nearly half of all African American adults have high blood pressure and 20% have diabetes in Philadelphia.
Nationally, obesity is responsible for an estimated $73.1 billion in loss of productivity for the American workforce. In Philadelphia alone, obesity leads to the loss of $1 billion annually in productivity for Philadelphia businesses.
Sugar sweetened beverages are not solely responsible for obesity rates in America. But we can’t deny the two are connected or as the social scientists might say “correlated.”
Sugary drinks, like soda, fruit drinks and sweetened teas, are the single largest sources of sugar in the American diet.
On average, Americans drink 20 oz. of soda a day. At 250 calories per 20 oz. soda that means the average American is drinking an extra 25 pounds a year in soda alone.
Philadelphians consume about 60 million gallons of sugar sweetened beverages each year. That’s a half a liter per day per person.
Children in Philadelphia drink one to two sugary drinks per day on average with African American children consuming significantly more than white children.
These facts clearly show the connection between sugary drinks and weight gain.
Sugary drinks have absolutely no nutritional value. They are empty calories that don’t make you feel full. It might taste good, but it isn’t good for you.
Sugary drinks can even distort the taste preferences of children, making less sweet foods and beverages less appealing.
The question is – who is culpable?
The answer is far more complicated than the question.
Soda companies are not forcing average Americans to buy and drink massive quantities of their product. But the soda industry isn’t being entirely honest with its customers either.
Simply put, local, state and federal governments across the country are fighting a tough battle against Big Soda. Big Soda has more money, more lobbyists and more opportunities to turn people on to their product.
How many commercials for brussel sprouts do you see? How many commercials for soda do you see? Not only are sugary drinks cheap but they are heavily marketed to kids and people of color.
The biggest spender on lobbyists in Philadelphia for the first quarter this year was Big Soda. They outspent any other lobbying group by six times. While their budgets continue to be large – ours is shrinking.
Mayors function at street level, living and working with the citizens who employ them. No one knows what is best for a community more than the public servants who work every day to make life better.
That’s why Mayors across the country and I have proposed taxes or new regulations on sugar sweetened beverages. We need a multi-pronged approach to decrease sugary drinks consumption. Education, taxation, and increased access to healthier options have to all be a part of the discussion.
Just last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. His ban would limit large sugary drinks being sold at food service establishments, like fast food restaurants, sports arenas or deli’s. The ban wouldn’t apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based products or beverages with no more than 25 calories per 8 oz. serving.
It’s a bold strategy and is worth evaluating and considering. Studies have shown that people eat what is served to them. Perhaps, if offered smaller portions people would consume less. The problem, which Mayor Bloomberg has clearly noted, is that ridiculously large portions have become the norm – 20 or 24 oz. sugary drinks are common.
Richmond, California has proposed a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. In November, it will appear on the ballot. The tax could influence the choices made by Richmond residents to pick healthier beverages.
These legislative measures send a clear message to soda companies that government is placing a higher value on the health of its citizens.
During my 2010 budget address, I proposed a sugar-sweetened beverage tax of two-cents-per-ounce for the first time. My hope was to impose a tax on retailers based on annual sales volume.
We anticipated the tax would generate $77 million annually which we could use to fund a concentrated health initiative geared toward combating obesity.
Keeping in mind my six year effort for smoke-free legislation, we came close to passage that year.
In 2011, with Philadelphia’s School District facing a significant budget shortfall, I reintroduced the sugar-sweetened beverage tax. At two-cents-per-ounce, this time on distributors, we believed it would close the budget gap.
Each time we introduced the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, we faced determined opposition from the beverage industry.
Our struggle centered on trying to garner public support and Council votes for the tax– but ultimately, the tax proposals didn’t pass.
We did benefit, nonetheless. We were able to raise awareness about the connections between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity. We created a dialogue about the tough decisions that have to be made to protect the health of our children and productivity of our workforce.
We also saw that powerful interests would not sit back when the status quo is threatened.
The soda industry has three main arguments against the enforcement of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax:
Soda has not been conclusively connected to a rise in obesity rates.
The point remains moot. But no one will argue that soda has a nutritional benefit or that the extra calories sugary beverages inject into the American diet turn into extra pounds over time.
A sugar-sweetened beverage tax or large-serving soda ban negatively affects the personal liberties of low-income individuals.
The government is not trying to legislate individual preference for soda or sugary drinks. Instead, governments want to create and promote policies that encourage citizens to make conscious and well-informed decisions about the health impact of what they are buying for themselves, their families and children.
The purpose of increasing the price is not to gouge lower income families, the purpose is to make people reconsider the cost of what they consume and be informed enough to decide if it is worth it.
By putting a soda tax into effect, people will consume less product resulting in layoffs by the soda industry and increasing unemployment.
Delivery trucks will still need drivers and packaging plants will still need workers, whether it is for 5,000 cases of soda or 5,000 cases of water or 5,000 cases of low-sugar or no-sugar products. People will still be thirsty and drinks will still need to be delivered and will still be sold and bought.
This is a specious scare-tactic that has had impact only because of the weakened economy we have been experiencing.
After the first soda tax failed, Philadelphia’s need for a health initiative that would address the staggering obesity rates remains.
In 2010, Philadelphia received $15 million in funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention over two years to reduce obesity by increasing physical activity and promoting healthy eating.
With that funding, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health started the “Get Healthy Philly Initiative”, a multi-sector initiative to address obesity through both policy and systems changes. Over the last two years, we have been able to accomplish a lot with Get Healthy Philly.
We’ve created healthier schools in partnership with the School District. 171 schools serving 100,000 students have created Wellness Councils to put healthy policies into practice.
More than 90 schools have replaced candy bars with healthy foods.
Schools have also implemented classroom movement breaks to get kids moving around during the day.
We’re also concentrating on afterschool programs. For the first time, food and fitness standards have been developed for 300 after-school programs effecting more than 20,000 low-income students.
Also through Get Healthy Philly, we’ve encouraged people to decrease their consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages. We’re making sure that adults, especially parents, understand the risk of high calorie snacks and sugary beverages to themselves AND their children.
And our Menu Labeling Law gives Philadelphians critical information about calories, salt, fat and carbs while they are making choices. Nearly 40% of customers have said this information leads them to make healthier decisions.
Philly Food Bucks provides low-income Philadelphians with the opportunity to let their dollars last longer. If you use Food Stamps at more than 25 participating Philadelphia farmers’ markets, you can receive a $2 Philly Food Bucks coupon for every $5 you spend. The Philly Food Bucks program has helped increased SNAP redemption at farmers markets by 400%.
And by leveraging federal dollars, we’re providing healthier and tastier meals to 3,000 children every day in recreation centers through the USDA Supper program.
Last summer, we served 2.8 million meals to approximately 90,000 young people across the City with the Summer Food Service Program. This program guarantees young people 18 and younger will receive nutritious breakfast, lunch and snacks all summer long for free.
Get Healthy Philly initiatives are not the only ways we are attempting to combat obesity in Philadelphia. We have implemented the:
The Food Trust, Reinvestment Fund and Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition partnered with the Commonwealth to bring supermarkets to low-income urban and rural communities.
We’re created a Healthy Corner Store Network, providing incentives, training and marketing support to 630 corner stores and refrigerated shelving in 100 stores.
Overall, the Fresh Food Financing Initiatives have provided funding for 88 fresh food retail projects in 34 Pennsylvania counties.
This has created or preserved 5,000 jobs and improved access to healthy food for more than a half million people.
Philadelphia has also done some work specifically to address mass consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Since 1999, all public schools that serve primarily low-income families provide comprehensive nutrition education.
Since 2004, the School District banned the sale of all sodas and sugary drinks in school vending machines. Schools discontinued the use of fryers and switched to low-fat milk in 2009.
We’ve made 260 vending machines healthier in municipal buildings. Our vending machines offer more water and non-caloric drinks, put healthy options at eye level, limit portion sizes of sugary drinks, and provide calorie labeling on each machine. Eight other large employers in the city have followed our lead, affecting the choices of 100,000 employees working in Philadelphia.
As a part of Get Healthy Philly, we have launched a mass media campaign to educate citizens about the links between sugary drinks, weight gain and diabetes. This media campaign is primarily aimed at caregivers to help address obesity in our young people and has been viewed 15 million times.
Unfortunately, our original federal funding will run out soon. Luckily, many of the programs and policy changes we have implemented are sustainable without additional funding AND have a long-lasting impact on the people of Philadelphia.
Moving forward, we have secured a $7.5 million over five years grant from the CDC to continue our obesity reduction strategies. In conjunction with that grant, I have committed $2 million of new funding for obesity prevention and tobacco control in the FY13 budget.
In 1964, the Surgeon General’s office released a report called ‘Smoking and Health.’
This report outlined the health risks associated with smoking and in the years since, we have learned more about smoking and second-hand smoke and the health risks associated with both.
After 40 years of warnings about the dangers of smoking, many people were outraged when we decided to ban smoking in public buildings, city-owned outdoor areas, bars and restaurants.
Other cities have also enacted similar legislation, experiencing great push back from the tobacco industry, some restaurants and bars, and the public.
But years later, the number of new smokers is down, smoking rates are down and the tobacco industry hasn’t collapse. Smokers may not have liked the regulations initially but they learned to adjust.
We know the health risks associated with obesity: high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and more.
I understand that correlation is one thing, causality is quite another. That’s why I am calling for the same kind of report on sugar-sweetened beverages as the Surgeon General and the CDC has undertook on tobacco – a comprehensive study of what effects sugary drinks have on the body.
As a community, Philadelphia has a problem with obesity. From the statistics, so do most other American cities. I believe that sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the obesity problem in America. Luckily for us, it is a problem that we can do something about.
Taxes can play a role in adjusting consumer choices. Mayor Bloomberg’s idea of a serving-size ban could help reduce consumption.
With either approach, one thing is very clear: we need more powerful and definitive scientific-based information that can explain, with minimal doubt, how we as a nation have gotten to this point. To what extent is diet responsible for obesity? What role does sugary drinks play in that? How responsible is the sedentary lifestyle we live for obesity?
In the 19th and early 20th century, we were a nation that used our muscle to shape the landscape of our country and we changed the world. Today, we are a nation stuck in a fight over healthcare costs and coverage, living inactive lives and growing more overweight with every passing year.
We have no idea how much the choices we are making will cost us, our children and our grandchildren. We need to act before it is too late.”