Public Health Works!
Every successful public health initiative that has made it easier for people to make healthier choices and live healthier lives -- minimizing tobacco use through taxes, increasing driving safety with seat belts, or fluoridating the water to prevent cavities -- has been supported and institutionalized by public policy. Throughout our history, policy has played a critical role in reducing the prevalence of preventable health problems, and it will be no less critical to the fight to reduce weight gain from sugary drink consumption. Here are some examples of the role policy has played in public health.
It's been almost fifty years since the Surgeon General publicly proclaimed that smoking causes cancer and heart disease. In those days, doctors appeared in tobacco ads, people smoked at work and on airplanes, and children were routinely exposed to second-hand smoke. But over the years, public health advocates across the country have conducted massive education campaigns, demanded the passage of anti-smoking policies, and succeeded in changing the culture of smoking. The industry fought these changes, and lost.
A cigarette tax has been one of the most effective policies we won. Today, New York State leads the nation with the highest tax-- $4.35 on a single pack.1
Taking a cue from tobacco, public health advocates are conducting education campaigns on the negative health effects of sugary drink consumption, and pushing for public policies to reduce marketing and consumption of sugary drinks. The industry is fighting these efforts, but we did it with tobacco and we can do it with soda!
The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food? By: Kelly D. Brownell and Kenneth E. Warner
We take car safety for granted. No one has to worry about windshields that break into terrifying shards of glass or steering columns that can impale drivers in a crash. Roads have barriers, so out-of-control vehicles can't charge head-on into oncoming traffic. And infants and toddlers are securely strapped into car seats. The auto industry fought every one of these protections, but we won them anyway. We did it with the auto industry and we can do it with the soda industry!
Children can't be healthy in unhealthy environments. When playgrounds saturated with lead from car exhaust were making children sick, public health advocates rallied to get the lead out of gasoline, and children's lead levels dropped. The oil industry protested, but we did it anyway. We did it with lead and we can do it with sugary drinks!
It used to be that saying goodnight at the bar meant having one for the road. Now we know better. Against the alcohol industry's wishes, we raised the drinking age, lowered the limit for blood alcohol content, and limited where and when alcohol can be sold. These policies saved lives. We put in place reasonable restrictions on alcohol, and we can have reasonable restrictions on sugary drinks too!
- Lessons for Addressing Obesity from the History of Alcohol Control By: Makani Theemba-Nixon
In the 1990's, California was the place to buy cheap handguns known as Saturday Night Specials. And the number one killer of California kids at the time? Handguns, of course. There were more gun dealers in the state than McDonald's. Californians said, "Enough!" They approved policies to ban the sale and manufacture of Saturday Night Specials, and handgun death rates went down. Despite protests from the National Rifle Association, we created a healthier environment. We can do it with the beverage environment too!