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Can a Penny-an-Ounce Soda Tax Curb Obesity?

Jorge Cota has lost more than 70 pounds since giving up soda and making other changes to his diet. (Mina Kim: KQED)

Jorge Cota, 17, has lost more than 70 pounds since giving up soda and making other changes to his diet. (Mina Kim: KQED)

Jorge Cota says he always gets a little nervous when he comes to Children’s Hospital in Oakland for his bi-monthly weigh-in.

“I’m wondering oh, did I lose this much weight, or did I not lose this much, if I gain weight I’m going to be mad,” says the 17-year-old high school football player from Tracy. “It’s just a lot of things going through my mind that I get nervous about when I come to the doctors, especially here.”

It was here at Children’s, about a year ago, that Jorge learned his health was in trouble.

“They told me that I was a pre-diabetic, that I also had high blood pressure, and they thought there was something wrong with my heart or my kidneys.”

“It was a scary moment,” Jorge’s mom Linda Ramos says. “When they were telling us, he started crying, he was scared, and that woke him up.”

At 16, Jorge was 5’11” and weighed 321 pounds.

“So I was a pretty big boy,” Jorge says with a smile.

His drink of choice was Dr. Pepper. Jorge says he’d drink two or three cans or bottles of soda a day. That added up to as much as 50 teaspoons of sugar.

“We just cut it out,” Linda Ramos says. “Not only the soda cut out, the way I cook at home for him, the junk food, the way we shop.” Continue reading

What’s at Stake for Obama’s Health Care Law in California This Election?

Photo by Gabriela Quiros, KQED Science

On KQED Public Radio’s The California Report Magazine on Friday, Scott Shafer talked with Marian Mulkey, the director of the Health Reform and Public Programs Initiative at the California HealthCare Foundation, a health-policy think tank (and a funder of the show).

Edited transcript:

SCOTT SHAFER: First of all, the Affordable Care Act has gradually been getting phased in nationwide. Give us a sense of what’s been happening up to now, right here in California.

MARIAN MULKEY, CALIFORNIA HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION: California has implemented many of the early provisions of the Affordable Care Act, making some new extensions of coverage available, for example, to young adults, assuring that pre-existing conditions are covered for children, and implementing many of the early programs — one for people with pre-existing conditions is in place and covering people already.

California has taken steps in terms of planning and establishing a state-based exchange, which is the marketplace by which people will be able to view their choices, identify what’s available for them and access federal subsidy support for buying coverage.

SHAFER: And it’s fair to say California has been further out in front on that than pretty much any other state?

MULKEY: Yes, California was early in determining it wanted to have a state-based exchange and moved quickly, immediately after the passage of the law in 2010 to start one up and to make some initial decisions. Continue reading

Los Angeles Measure B: Mandating Condom Use in Adult Films

By Stephanie O’Neill

The city of Los Angeles passed a condom requirement for adult film performers earlier this year. Measure B would expand the requirement to the entire county. (Shawn Latta: Flickr)

The city of Los Angeles passed a condom requirement for adult film performers earlier this year. Measure B would expand the requirement to the entire county. (Shawn Latta: Flickr)

The City of Los Angeles garnered worldwide attention earlier this year when it became the nation’s first city to require male adult film actors to wear condoms while performing.

But the landmark law only applies to film shoots that require a city permit and does not include adult films shot in studios.

Now voters will determine if the requirements should be expanded to all of Los Angeles County. Measure B would direct the Los Angeles County Health Department to enforce broader condom requirements at all adult film shoots countywide, studios included.

The AIDS Health Care Foundation backed the city ordinance and is now behind Measure B. They say both the city ordinance and the county measure are intended to save lives.

“You really can’t argue that people who go to work at a job really ought to be putting their health at risk,” says Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Health Care Foundation. “We put a thing at the conclusion of a film saying ‘no animal was hurt in the making of this film.’ We can’t say that about these films when it comes to people, real life people.” Continue reading

Arguments For, Against Prop 37’s GMO Labeling Requirement

Most of the corn in the U.S. is grown from genetically engineered seeds. (fishhawk: Flickr)

Most of the corn in the U.S. is grown from genetically engineered seeds. (fishhawk: Flickr)

One California proposition that is getting nationwide attention is Proposition 37. It requires labeling on raw or processed food that’s made from certain genetically engineered materials. It also prohibits calling any foods “natural” on the packaging — if those foods are made with genetically modified organisms (GMO). Supporters say consumers have a right to this information. Opponents say the measure is misleading and full of loopholes.

The California Report’s Scott Shafer talked with science reporter Amy Standen on Thursday about Prop. 37. Here’s an edited transcript of their discussion:

SCOTT SHAFER: Let’s begin with a background question. How are genetically modified foods used right now; how prevalent are they?

AMY STANDEN: Very prevalent. In fact, pretty much everything you’ll find in the middle of the supermarket — everything from sodas to crackers to cereals to cookies — almost all of those foods contain genetically modified ingredients. That’s because most of the corn, soy and a lot of the rice grown in the U.S. is grown from genetically modified seeds.

SHAFER: And what does that mean? How are they engineered and why? Continue reading

Movie Theater Chain Lines Up Against Richmond Soda Tax

No on N, Richmond soda tax billboard

Billboard (Photo: Kristin Farr)

Cinemark – owner of the Century movie theater line – has jumped into the debate over Richmond’s proposed tax on sugary beverages, known as Measure N.

Last quarter, the company contributed more than $107,000 in non-monetary contributions against the measure, from Jul 15 to Sep 30, according to KQED News Associate Richmond Confidential.

Rachel de Leon of Richmond Confidential visited the only movie theater in town, Century Hilltop Sixteen, to see how some of the money is being spent. “I saw that the employees behind the concession stands were wearing ‘No on Measure N’ t-shirts, and there were several large posters hanging up saying ‘No on Measure N’ and listing off why this would be harmful to businesses.”

The theater also plays an anti-soda tax trailer before movies begin. So far, the “No On ‘N'” campaign has spent more than $2 million fighting the measure.

Listen to the story:

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Read the full Richmond Confidential report here

Sacramento-Area Race Proxy For Torrid Medicare Debate

By Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News

Rep. Dan Lungren and Dr. Ari Bera are campaigning to represent the newly drawn 7th Congressional district in northern California. (Photos: Republican Conference and Randy Bayne via Flickr)

Rep. Dan Lungren and Dr. Ari Bera are campaigning to represent the newly drawn 7th Congressional district in northern California. (Photos: Republican Conference and Randy Bayne via Flickr)

When Republican Rep. Dan Lungren faced a crowd of Tea Party supporters and Democratic detractors at a recent town hall meeting in the town of Carmichael, outside Sacramento, the arguments showed how explosive the Medicare debate can get in the hottest races in the country.

At La Sierra Community Center, the long line of seemingly irritated constituents made clear just what is on the minds of voters here: the Republican proposal to give future beneficiaries, those currently 55 and younger, a fixed amount of money to buy Medicare coverage from the government or private insurance companies.

Standing at a podium in the auditorium, Margie Metzler, a 67-year-old woman with the group Seniors Against Lungren, told Lungren that she had been laid off at age 61 and went four years without health insurance until she qualified for Medicare. “I don’t want to kick the people under 55 under the bus,” Metzler said of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan.

“Lungren and Bera are very effective stand-ins for the two sides of the national (Medicare) debate.”

A few moments later, another woman took to the microphone with this reprimand: “All you protesters can think about is where your next government entitlement is going to come from. Rome is burning and you’re all acting like children.”

And those were the polite exchanges.

Eastern Sacramento is where the two Californias come together — where the liberal, urban coast meets the conservative exurbs and rural farmland. Lungren has had a safe seat in Congress in large part due to the district’s Republican majority. Continue reading

Soda Industry Outspends Beverage Tax Supporters 10-1 in Richmond

by William Harless, California Watch

Groups aligned with the soda industry already have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars as Richmond prepares to vote on raising taxes on sweetened drinks an extra penny an ounce. Since the spring, tax opponents have outspent supporters almost 10 to 1, new financial records show.

A group backed by the American Beverage Association sent this mailer to Richmond voters. (Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners)

The American Beverage Association, a Washington, D.C., trade organization that represents PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other major beverage companies, has spent $150,000 to fight the soda tax measure since June, according to recently released campaign finance disclosures.

The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, the beverage association-backed organization created to defeat the tax, spent an additional $200,000, according to campaign finance records. The money is going largely to political consulting, attorney, and polling and research firms. Almost $60,000 was earmarked for outdoor advertising.

Meanwhile, another organization has entered the fray to support the tax. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit group with offices in Oakland, Davis and Los Angeles, has spent about $21,600 on polling and focus groups.

Richmond City Council Member Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who is leading the campaign for the sweetened-beverage tax, said he believes soda drinkers will start to turn to tap water, saving money and drinking something healthier. He said the American Beverage Association is worried that Richmond will set a trend.

“I think they’re quite aware that if these dominoes begin to fall, a lot more will,” he said, referring to the two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, in Los Angeles County, that are considering penny-per-ounce sweetened-beverage taxes, which would be the first of their kind in the United States.

Ritterman and a handful of Bay Area residents have raised about $10,400 for their own campaign, dubbed Richmond Fit for Life, and have sent out brochures and mailers advocating for the tax, outlining obesity statistics and describing how it and a companion health measure are phrased on the November ballot.

The Richmond City Council voted to place the soda tax on the November ballot. Ritterman estimates the measure would raise $3 million a year, which advocates want to use for obesity programs, school fruit and vegetable gardens, and playing fields. The tax would apply to soft drinks and other beverages with added sugar.

Opponents of the soda tax point out that the ballot measure does not guarantee the new money would be spent on health measures, though supporters say they have enough pledges from City Council members to ensure it would be.

“Our campaign activities are and will continue to be focused on helping voters cut through the false claims of the tax backers,” Chuck Finnie, a vice president of the San Francisco public relations firm Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, which is working on the campaign to defeat the tax, said in a statement. “They say the measure is intended to fight obesity but they know not one thin dime is being raised specifically for new public health, recreation and other anti-obesity programs.”

Both sides have sent out mailers, including one by the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes that irked soda-tax supporter Tom Butt, a Richmond City Council member. Last week, he sent a complaint to the city’s attorney claiming the mailer didn’t contain the specific disclosure, as Butt said city law requires: “Major funding from large out-of-city contributors.”

“Although the BS (Big Soda) campaign is free to use the rest of the mailer to imply that this was paid for by local interests, it is not free to do that in the part of the mailer where the disclosure is required,” Butt wrote, forwarding this complaint to his constituents in an e-mail.

The brochure does mention American Beverage Association funding at its bottom. And Finnie said the city’s requirement for disclosing out-of-city contributions applies to independent expenditure committees, not campaigns against specific ballot measures like the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes.

“It is Councilmen Butt and Ritterman who are misleading voters,” Finnie said. “They are misleading voters by failing to acknowledge the so-called soda tax is going to raise the cost of living on everyone, not just on consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages and certainly not just on soda drinkers.”

William Harless is a journalist with California Watch.

Arguments Take Shape in Battle Over Richmond Soda Tax

(Photo: ciukes/Flickr)

“This product is toxic.”

That’s Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman at a council debate in May. The product at issue is not a pesticide or even an oven cleaner; what Ritterman, the former chief of cardiology at Kaiser Medical Center in Richmond was describing is sugar, or more specifically the sugar found in sweetened beverages for sale. Ritterman is the author of the so-called Richmond “soda tax,” voted onto the November ballot by the city council  in May.

If the measure passes, a 1 cent-per-ounce fee will be imposed on all Richmond businesses “that sell any drink containing added sugars, including fruit smoothies, fountain drinks, soft drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks,” reports the Contra Costa Times. “Markets, food stands, food trucks and restaurants would be expected to use inventory figures to calculate sales and pay the tax, according to city staff reports.” Continue reading

Health Care Reform… Is That What Government’s For?

Naval Medical Center, San Diego

Flickr/U.S. Navy photo, Todd Hack

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act June 28 has consumed lots of attention. Republicans are talking about repealing the act, while Democrats defended the law as “transformative of our society.” Why is it that this has become such a polarizing issue?

Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut, a veteran pollster, shared some insight, based on his public opinion surveys, in a wide-ranging conversation this week with PBS NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer:

“Instrumental to the dislike of this program is the mandate,” said Kohut, referring to polling last month that showed that Americans are divided on the Obama-backed health reform law but that a majority disapprove of the “individual mandate,” that requires individuals to purchase health insurance coverage or face a penalty. “What has been overwhelming is the reaction to the mandate in particular and the concern about the role of government.”

The role of government… in health care and so many other aspects of American life… has become a central point of debate this election year.

Take a look at this graph from the Gallup poll: A decade ago, roughly 6 in 10 people believed the federal government had a responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. Now just 5 in 10 think so.

Gallup health care survey 2000-2012

Gallup health care survey 2000-2012

Yet, the government’s role in ensuring health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act is a much smaller one than in other proposals Americans have debated in recent years.

Remember the “public option”…? That was the proposal for a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers as part of the health care overhaul. It was widely popular, according to a New York Times poll in 2009.

The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed.

But it didn’t pass muster in Congress and didn’t end up in the final version of the law.

Looking back a little further, Ezra Klein, writing in the New Yorker, reminds us that the “individual mandate” that conservatives now consider a government intrusion, actually began its life as a conservative idea.

The mandate made its political début in a 1989 Heritage Foundation brief titled “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans,” as a counterpoint to the single-payer system and the employer mandate, which were favored in Democratic circles.

Here’s a link to that brief, by Stuart M. Butler with the conservative Heritage Foundation, which formed the basis for a Republican alternative to President Clinton’s plan for health care reform in the early 1990s.

A lot of Americans still don’t fully understand what the Affordable Care Act would do (or what the Supreme Court did last week). In fact, the New York Times reports, some of the politicians campaigning to repeal the law are actually proposing to replace it with… elements that are already in it.

A spokesman for Representative Rick Berg, Republican of North Dakota who is seeking a Senate seat, told a reporter in his state that Mr. Berg wants to replace Mr. Obama’s health care law with one that does not deny insurance coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and closes the “doughnut hole” — a gap in pharmaceutical coverage — for people on Medicare. Those are two of the most popular provisions of the law Mr. Berg would repeal, which would be difficult to replicate without the regulatory mandates and tax increases he has vowed to reverse.

So what IS in the law? For an easy overview, check out this animated video from the Kaiser Family Foundation. It was produced before the Supreme Court’s ruling (and has been viewed more than 400,000 times) but most of it still holds true:

And then let us know what you think: What IS the role of government in terms of health care?