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February 19, 2014
Field Poll: Californians broadly support soda tax, labeling

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By Jeremy B. White
jwhite@sacbee.com

Amid mounting concern about the prevalence of childhood obesity, California voters support taxing sugary beverages and mandating health warnings on sweetened drinks, according to a new Field Poll funded by the California Endowment.

When respondents were read a list of ideas to reduce childhood diabetes, two-thirds endorsed imposing a tax on soda and similar sweetened drinks. An even larger margin, 74 percent, said they either strongly or somewhat favored labels advising consumers that "studies show that daily consumption of soda and other sugary drinks contributes to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay."

Particularly striking, according to Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo, was that majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents all backed the labeling idea.

"Typically Republicans and more conservative voters shy away from these government intrusions into private enterprise," DiCamillo said Wednesday. "The lack of opposition is one of the more remarkable findings."

Those findings come as Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, pushes a bill that would affix warning labels to sugary beverages. Monning has unsuccessfully pushed for a soda tax in past years and suggested, in unveiling the labeling proposal, that the health notices would have an easier time winning approval than a new tax.

In contrast with the labeling push, most Republicans, around 53 percent, rejected a soda tax. DiCamillo noted that support for the idea fluctuates based on where the proceeds will go. A year ago, a majority of Field Poll respondents said they would oppose a soda tax - but when the question was expanded to say the revenue would flow to school nutrition and physical activity programs, respondents flipped to a majority support position.

"Most of the public's concerns about obesity, when it comes to public policy anyways, is what can we do to protect the kids?" DiCamillo said.

A separate Field Poll released last week, also funded by the California Endowment, found that unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity had overtaken drug abuse as the primary concern Californians have about the well-being of children. That underscores warnings by public health experts who see childhood obesity as a paramount issue, with research suggesting that overweight kids face a plethora of health issues later in life.

Seven in 10 favored a rule prohibiting the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps. And reflecting a desire to limit how much sugar kids consume, respondents to today's Field Poll also supported banning sugary sports drinks from school vending machines (58 percent) and removing sugary drinks from venues like child care centers and children's hospitals (62 percent).

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.