A 16 ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 52 grams of sugar.
A 16 ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 52 grams of sugar. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Katherine McLane, spokeswoman for the Texas Beverage Association, does not use the words “soda” or “tax” in her recent critique of the Salud America!’s campaign against sugary drinks. Yet she makes a very compelling case for why San Antonio should consider taxing soda, as have Philadelphia, Chicago, Boulder, Colo., and San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and Albany, Calif.

Her protest that “cutting out a single food, beverage, or ingredient” is not productive in fighting the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity insults both the intelligence of voters in those fine cities as well as a mountain of scientific evidence. After losing 5-of-5 local soda tax referendums in the recent election cycle, big soda is clearly desperate. Not coincidentally, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent resigned last week.

Huge increases in diabetes and obesity rates in the United States over that last 50 years are closely associated with an increasing consumption of sugar. And half of all added sugar in the U.S. diet comes from soda and other sugary drinks.

“Cutting out” soda, therefore, makes total sense and has already proven to be highly effective.

During the first year of its tax in Berkeley, soda consumption dropped dramatically, especially in lower income neighborhoods. At the same time, $1.5 million in tax revenue was collected to be reinvested in those same neighborhoods. San Antonio’s decline in obesity from 2010 to 2012 in parallel with declining soda drinking also demonstrates the strong connection between the two.

Through decreased consumption, soda taxes directly impact obesity and diabetes and generate millions to invest in pre-school (Philadelphia), neighborhood safety (Chicago), and public health (California’s Bay Area and Boulder). The $3.5 million the American Beverage Association and Coca-Cola have “donated” to the City of San Antonio to squash criticism of sugary drinks is a small amount compared to the $15-20 million per year that a one penny per ounce Bexar County soda tax would generate.

City and County attorneys and elected officials should now be researching how best to implement a soda tax here, for the health of our community and for badly needed dollars to reinvigorate our neighborhoods.

Case in point: The Witte Museum’s H-E-B Body Adventure has identified the areas of Bexar County where children eat the fewest vegetables and drink the most soda. Not surprisingly, they are the same areas. Think of what could be accomplished if just a portion of the $15-20 million generated annually was directed at fighting child obesity in those neighborhoods.

Dr. Thomas Schlenker, former San Antonio Metropolitan Health District director (2011-2015), is a pediatrician who spent many years caring for sick children in Wisconsin and Mexico as well as directing...