Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Meet the 8 Registered Dietitians Campaigning Against the Proposed National Soda Tax

So the other day saw New Haven congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduce a national soda tax bill in the US House of Representatives.

The SWEET Act, if passed, would see every teaspoon of added sugar in a beverage you purchase cost you one additional shiny penny at the register.

And boy would those pennies add up.

The tax would raise $10 billion a year with the monies in turn being earmarked for programs to combat the diseases that high sugar intakes exacerbate or cause. Examples of such programs include subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables in schools and for SNAP (food stamp) recipients, funding school-based interventions and policies such as farm-to-school programs, increasing access to healthy food in low-income neighbourhoods, paying for social marketing campaigns to counteract the marketing strategies used by the beverage industry to market sugar-sweetened beverages to children, and helping in establishing state-wide, comprehensive obesity and diabetes prevention programs. Not to mention the fact that the tax also might lead to a direct decrease in soda consumption as has potentially occurred in Mexico since their soda tax was implemented (I say potentially only in that causation can't be formally proven, but in the quarter since Mexico implemented their soda tax, consumption has dropped nearly 3%).

As far as burden to consumers go for all for all of this, it'll be minimal. To put the proposed tax in some perspective, even if you're chugging a litre of Coca-Cola a day, the tax would only end up costing you an additional $2 a week.

Sounds pretty amazing to me - so amazing that it's almost unfathomable that any nutrition or health professional would oppose it as after all, we're talking about an annualized $10 billion national injection of health and nutrition programming and subsidies, along with the potential bonus of decreasing sugar sweetened beverage consumption.

You'd think that RDs across the country would be rejoicing, and yet...check out these tweets from registered dietitians Jen Haugen (Greater Minnesota Media Spokesperson, Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), Robyn Flipse, Neva Cochran (past president of both the Texas and Dallas Dietetic Associations), Rosanne Rust, Ann Dunaway Teh, Jill Levinson, Pat Baird (the president of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), and Melissa Musiker (Chair, State Board of Dietetics and Nutrition at District of Columbia). The first 7 were posted within hours of congresswoman DeLauro's SWEET Act introduction in the House, while the last was a response to this post:

So on what planet would an RD feel so strongly about a soda tax that he or she would not only privately think to him or herself that it won't work or isn't wise but also broadcast their opposition to it to the world via social media? On the planet where tweets from RDs can be purchased or so it would seem.

Have a peek at the ending of each of those first 7 tweets. The first 6 end with #Client disclosures, while the last (from the president of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) ends with the totally insufficient and undecipherable (and likely illegal) #client short form of #cl. Those hashtags are meant to inform readers that the authors' views therein are paid for or influenced by their clients - presumably arms of the food industry that would be unhappy if a soda tax ever passed (which in the case of the first 7 RDs include PepsiCo., Coca-Cola, The American Beverage Association, and the Corn Refiners Association, among many others). That last tweet? Well it's from an RD who is employed by APCO Worldwide - Big Beverage's PR firm of choice - and given she identifies self as RD in tweet, I'd think disclosure should require her to identify as working for the food industry as well.

But maybe I'm assuming too much. Maybe lots of RDs are opposed to taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and are also, on their own volitions, actively speaking out against the proposed health promoting soda tax. So I asked Colby Vorland if he could scan his database of 197 RDs on Twitter for tweets that included the word "soda" or "tax" posted on July 30th and 31st (day of, and day after, bill introduction). And while clearly not a complete sampling of RDs on Twitter it's telling that the only negative sentiments expressed among the 197 RDs on Colby's list came from among those folks listed up above.

Putting all questions of tax efficacy at changing consumer behaviour aside, it certainly appears from their tweets that for them, the $10 billion a year for health and nutrition programs and promotion that a soda tax could raise, is outweighed by the $s directly or indirectly paid to them by their #clients.