The Boston Foundation, New England Health Institute release findings addressing factors in the current obesity epidemic at a public forum
Boston –New polling data shows about two-thirds of Massachusetts voters would support removing the current state subsidy for soft-drinks and candy, if part of the resulting revenue were used to support programs that fight childhood obesity or for aid to local schools. Half of registered Massachusetts voters support removing the current state subsidy for soft-drinks and candy without regard for how resulting revenue is spent.
That is one highlight in a new poll conducted by MassINC Polling Group for the Boston Foundation and NEHI. Other findings include a high level of awareness of the ongoing increase in obesity rates among Massachusetts adults (70 percent of voters were aware of this) and among children (77 percent of voters are aware of this trend.) The poll also revealed a very high level of understanding about the impact of obesity on public health. About 90 percent believe (correctly) that obesity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes by “a lot”.
The poll uncovered some areas with far less public awareness: fully 72 percent of Massachusetts voters believe some specific level of physical education is required in public schools (it isn’t). When asked if they would support a state requirement of 30 minutes of physical activity during the school day, 87 percent said were in favor of the requirement.
A forum gathers experts on obesity and its impact on health
The findings of the survey were released today at an Understanding Boston forum held at the Boston Foundation. Gathered to discuss the impact of soda and sweetened snacks on public health were a group of experts in the cumulative impact of sugar in the American diet, on the growing issues of obesity-related disease in children and adults, and on the response to the growing obesity epidemic by state and local agencies.
“This is an important beginning, as the Healthy People/Healthy Economy coalition makes its first effort in direct political engagement on behalf of the citizens of Massachusetts,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. The foundation in partnership with NEHI, and with the support of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and a wide range of supporters from different sectors, launched the coalition to serve as a broad platform for action in many areas that affect health and healthy behaviors.
“The cost of preventable chronic disease like obesity is unsustainable and it will continue to crowd out essential investment in the life of the Commonwealth, from education to infrastructure if we don’t address it aggressively and creatively. Removing the current tax exemption from soda and candy is a great place to begin,” said Grogan.
Walter Willett, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health will present recent research on the impact of sugar and sugar-sweetened snacks on public health. A panel moderated by Paul S. Grogan will include Sarah De Ferranti, Director of the Preventive Cardiology Clinic at Children’s Hospital; Paula Johnson, Executive Director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Chair of the Boston Public Health Commission; Ruth Ellen Fitch, President and CEO of The Dimock Center; and Roberta R. Friedman, Director of Public Policy at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
Lauren Smith, Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will make final remarks.
Legislative testimony follows the forum
On May 12, following the forum and release of the new Mass INC poll data, NEHI and the Boston Foundation will testify at the State House in support of House Bill 1697, An Act to Reduce Childhood Obesity by removing the State Subsidy for Sugared Sweetened Beverages and Candy. The bill is sponsored by State Rep. Kay Khan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children and Families.
The bill addresses the fact that Massachusetts is one of only 12 states to exempt candy and soda from state sales tax, defining them as essential food items. As a result, the state provides an effective subsidy to products research has established bear a direct link to obesity. In part because soda has been classed with milk and vegetables as essential food products, consumption of soda has increased dramatically in recent years. Overall, the consumption of calories with little or no nutritional value has increased by nearly 30 percent in the past years, and one study in 2004 found that soft drinks are the single largest contributor of calorie intake in the United States. In the mid 1990s, the intake of sugared beverages began surpassing that of milk.
The current tax exemption for soft drinks and candy is counted as “tax expenditure,” in the annual Tax Expenditure Budget. House Bill 1697 would not commit the revue raised by the removal of the exemption, but the Boston Foundation and NEHI will call for those funds—estimated at $50 million a year—to be dedicated to proven health prevention interventions.
The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of $733 million. In Fiscal Year 2010, the Foundation and its donors made more than $82 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of close to $83 million. The Foundation is made up of some 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges. For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.
NEHI is a national health policy institute focused on enabling innovation to improve health care quality and lower health care costs. In partnership with members from all across the health care system, NEHI conducts evidence-based research and stimulates policy change to improve the quality and the value of health care. Together with this unparalleled network of committed health care leaders, NEHI brings an objective, collaborative and fresh voice to health policy. For more information, visit www.nehi.net.
These results are based a MassINC Polling Group statewide poll of 500 registered voters across Massachusetts, conducted March 30 – April 2, 2011. Live telephone interviews were conducted by Eastern Research Services among a representative sample of registered voters via both landline and cell phone. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.4 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.