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Soda tax would boost health of Latinos, blacks, study says

A tax on soda would carry the greatest health benefits for black and Latino Californians, who face the highest risks of diabetes and heart disease, according to recent research findings.

The study found that if a penny-per-ounce tax was applied to soda, cuts in consumption would result in an 8 percent decline in diabetes cases among blacks and Latinos. The statewide reduction in new diabetes cases is projected at 3 to 5.6 percent, according to researchers from UC San Francisco, Columbia University and Oregon State University, who released their findings at last week's American Public Health Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

The study was unveiled as a sugar-sweetened beverage tax faces votes in El Monte, in Los Angeles County, and Richmond, in the Bay Area. A statewide excise tax was proposed but died in the California Legislature in 2010.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said he has visited Richmond to urge support for the measure. He said he heard residents speak of loved ones who’ve been affected by diabetes complications – such as limb amputations and blindness – during a recent town hall meeting at a Richmond church.

Goldstein said residents of both cities, though, face the pressure of nearly $3 million in spending by the beverage industry, which opposes the measures.

The residents "are using the power of democracy to say we want to change this,” Goldstein said. “But the beverage industry is using the enormous power of its pocketbook to try to crush it.”

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Soda industry pours millions into campaign to defeat Richmond tax

The beverage industry has spent nearly $2.5 million to crush a soda tax ballot measure in Richmond, records show, in a costly bid to keep the idea of taxing sugary drinks from spreading nationwide.

“This is basically a battleground in a national debate," said Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the campaign against Richmond’s Measure N. "The consequence might be that other cities follow suit.”

The measure on Tuesday’s ballot aims to reduce obesity in Richmond by placing a penny-per-ounce tax on businesses that sell sugar-sweetened beverages. The measure would raise an estimated $3 million a year, which local officials have promised to spend on youth athletic and health programs.

If voters approve the measure, Richmond could become the first city in the country to impose a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, including soda, chocolate milk and so-called energy drinks such as Red Bull.

A similar measure is on the ballot in the Southern California city of El Monte. As of last week, the industry had contributed nearly $1.3 million to defeat that measure, much of it for advertisements targeting ethnic communities.

In Richmond, if opponents win the roughly 15,000 votes they estimate that they need to defeat Measure N, their spending would come to about $165 per vote. That is nearly four times the record amount GOP candidate Meg Whitman spent for each vote during her failed 2010 bid for governor.

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Survey: Drinking water compliance eludes some California schools

Since the start of the 2010 school year, thirsty students at Turlock High School can visit a “hydration station,” a state-of-the-art drinking fountain that provides filtered and chilled water. 

The high-tech fountain, which has also filled nearly 9,000 water bottles at Turlock High, south of Modesto, is part of the district’s effort to comply with recently passed state and federal laws that require free, fresh water to be served at schools wherever meals are served or eaten.

Proponents of these laws said that the requirement promotes improved learning. “Research shows that kids that are healthy and hydrated learn better and miss less school,” said Michael Danzik, nutrition education consultant with the California Department of Education.

There are also health benefits to the requirement, said Stephen Onufrak of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. "Providing access to free drinking water is a strategy to support healthy drink choices among children,” he wrote in an email.

The California law went into effect in July 2011, and the federal law was passed in December 2010.

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Sitting vs. hunting: Both use same amount of energy, study says

Get this: Although you may be just sitting at your desk or planted on your couch while reading this, you are burning the same number of calories as the hardest-working hunter-gatherer in East Africa.

Indeed, the fact that you get from one place to another in your car, on a train or on a bus; that you ride an escalator or elevator to go up and down floors; and that you move only when you absolutely must makes no difference.

You still are expending the same amount of energy as the Hadza, who generally walk between five and seven miles a day to find food.

And this finding indicates that our Western propensity for obesity is not so much related to a sedentary lifestyle, but easy access to high-calorie and processed foods.

This finding is the result of new research, which appears today in the Public Library of Science journal.

“This is one of those great ‘a-ha’ moments in science,” said Brian Wood, who was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University while doing the research, but now is an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University. “Where we went in and did some methodical testing, and came out with a finding that really challenged the way we’d seen and explained things before.”

Wood and study co-author Herman Pontzer, however, stressed that this research does not suggest that physical activity has no benefits.

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Food literacy resolution hard to swallow for some grocers, growers

In California, legislative resolutions tend to reflect universal sentiments: We embrace literacy. We disavow dating violence. But when Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson introduced a resolution to dub September Food Literacy Awareness Month, the details of the motion set off a virtual food fight.

Several lobbyists for growers and grocers stepped up to oppose the language in the resolution during a hearing last week, confirming that in a state where half of the nation's fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown, seemingly uncontroversial statements about food draw intense scrutiny.

Amber Stott, director of the California Food Literacy Center, said her organization sponsored the resolution and sees eating fresh, local produce as a key to stemming the nation’s obesity crisis. To foster that goal, Stott said the group goes to schools and introduces kids to fresh produce to “inspire children to eat more fruits and vegetables.”

 

During the hearing, Dickinson said the resolution supports the state economy by encouraging the purchasing of California-grown produce.

Lobbyists, though, lined up to speak against the finer points of the resolution and sent an opposition letter with 20 signatures from egg, tomato, grain and warehouse supporters. They questioned the resolution's claims about the nutritional value of organic food and the merits of local eating.

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Food ads, sugary drinks leave you craving more, study says

You've seen billboards showing a triple-stacked hamburger, dripping with cheese, laced with bacon and nestled in a light, fluffy bun. And you've seen the commercials highlighting the delectable fudge swirls churned into a pint of rich, creamy ice cream.

But do these commercials really work? Do they actually make you crave food? Yes, they do.

According to new research out of the University of Southern California, images of high-calorie foods stimulate the "craving" part of the brain. And if a person is eating or drinking something sugary while looking at them, the hankering gets even more severe.

The research was presented last week at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in Houston.

"Studies have shown that advertisements featuring food make us think of eating, but our research looked at how the brain responds to food cues and how that increases hunger and desire for certain foods," said Kathleen Page, principal investigator and assistant professor of clinical medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine. "This stimulation of the brain's reward areas may contribute to overeating and obesity and has important public health implications."

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Even health chief struggles to meet physical activity goals

If breaking a sweat sometimes falls off your to-do list, take heart. California's top public health official is right there with you, trying – sometimes in vain – to squeeze in a bike ride or a yoga class. 

Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the state Department of Public Health, has been struggling to stick to his New Year's resolution. To encourage Californians to "get physical," he pledged to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week and to do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. 

Since then, he has chronicled his efforts on the health department's Facebook page. From bike riding to dog walking to stair-climbing, Chapman, 50, posts about his activity, both to serve as a role model and to hold himself accountable.

He started the year strong, posting on Jan. 12: 

"My first week of 2012 was very active; I exceeded the goal of moderate physical activity with 160 minutes. Writing down my activities really keeps me motivated, especially when I see a day that had no activity: Jan 1: 45 minute bike ride Jan 2: Strength conditioning for legs at gym Jan 3: No activity."

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Study links childhood obesity to poorer math performance

Obese children face risks to their emotional and social well-being that can harm their academic performance, new research suggests.

The study, published today in the journal Child Development, found obese elementary school children performed worse on math tests than their peers without weight problems.

A lack of social acceptance could account for the lower test scores, researchers said. Obese children who do not feel accepted by their peers often exhibit feelings of loneliness, sadness and anxiety that can hinder their academic performance.

Those feelings became even more apparent as the children progressed through school, according to the study.

 

“Children who have weight problems are not as well-received by their peers. That creates a condition or situation where developing social skills isn’t as easy," said Sara Gable, the study's lead author and an associate professor in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

For girls, but not for boys, difficulty developing social skills was related to obesity.

“The stigma of obesity and lack of conformity to standards of physical appearance – girls are perhaps ... no pun intended, feeling the weight of that more,” Gable said.

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Beverage lobbyist funds 'community' campaign against soda tax

RICHMOND – A powerful Washington, D.C., trade organization that represents PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other major beverage companies is helping fund a Richmond group that is fighting a November ballot measure to raise taxes on soda and other sweetened beverages, interviews and records show.

A Richmond resident, Rosa Lara, is going door to door identifying herself as an organizer with the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes and collecting signatures on a petition. Although Lara doesn't mention it unless specifically asked, her group is supported by the American Beverage Association, the industry's main trade organization.

In May, Lara presented the Richmond City Council with a petition that she said included 900 signatures against the sweetened-beverage tax. Holding up a pile of papers, she also told the council that 100 businesses had signed up to oppose the measure.

“We only have one grocery store. What’s going to happen to us? We’re going to have to walk,” Lara told the council. “We don’t have the resources to go out of the city. I’ve lived here my whole life – I haven’t seen changes. We need to make a change for the community. This isn’t the way.”

Lara, who also presented her case to the council in Spanish, said she represented the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, but did not note the beverage association was helping fund her petition drive.

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Obesity prevention efforts in schools yield some success

Obesity is still on the rise among California students, but after years of prevention measures in schools, the rate is slowing, new research shows.

More than 35 percent of students were overweight or obese in 2008, up from one-third in 2003. That's an average annual increase of 0.33 percent, compared with 0.8 to 1.7 percent each year in decades prior.

The findings, released last week, are based on the results of state-mandated physical fitness testing of fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade students. Researchers at UC Davis, with funding from the California Department of Education, examined test results of 6.3 million students over six years.

The tests showed overall improvements in aerobic capacity, upper body strength and flexibility and declines in healthy body composition, abdominal strength and trunk extensor strength. The percentage of students achieving healthy fitness in all categories jumped from about 29 percent in 2003 to nearly 35 percent in 2008.

 

"This is a first step. It's a big first step because for the first time, we've at least been able to block the progression or increase in obesity," said Dr. William Bommer, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis and senior author of the study. "Obesity, it's probably one of the hardest things we have in adults and even in kids to try to reverse."

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