LAURA WASHINGTON: A nagging reminder about the ills of soda pop

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It’s about time!

“Finally!” the Fat Nag declares, hands on her hips.

The Cook County soda tax is finally getting some love. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has jumped into our raging soda wars.

The billionaire businessman-turned-politician is rolling out at least $2 million in advertising for a crucial cause at a pivotal time. It’s aimed at defending the county’s new, penny-per-ounce sugar-sweetened and diet beverage tax.


Bloomberg has been a longtime champion of government that encourages healthy lifestyles. His detractors complain he wants to establish a “nanny state.”

Sometimes, we need a nanny.

For months, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has served that lonely role, taking on brutal opposition from store owners, lobbyists for national retailers and Big Soda, and hyper-ambitious political poseurs.

They whine the tax is confusing, unfair and will hurt the economy. Some of the critiques are valid. But the health aspect of the tax has been underplayed, in part because its proponents have done a lousy job of explaining and promoting that cause.

Now come Bloomberg’s ads, with a welcome but dire message the naysayers can’t ignore: This tax can save our children.

An online ad opens with a scene that happens everywhere, every day: a video of children walking up to a soda machine.

“When kids drink soda pop, they are getting a lot more than they bargain for,” the narrator begins. “Because just one soda a day can lead to an extra ten pounds a year, and that leads to some very serious health problems.”

The machine’s buttons are labeled with grim choices: Kidney failure. Type 2 diabetes. Childhood obesity. Heart disease.

And, the Nag would add, an early death.

Children who consume higher amounts of sugared drinks have a 55 percent greater chance of being overweight or obese, compared to those who consume less, shows a study in the British Medical Journal.

The potential damage of sugary drinks “is catastrophic at this point,” says Julie Mirostaw, the American Heart Association’s senior director of government relations in Illinois.

“Sadly, you see it most among adolescents,” she tells me.

Between 1980 and 2014, rates among obese teens quadrupled to 20.5 percent, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

And children are becoming obese at younger ages — 8.9 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are now obese, and about 2 percent are extremely obese.

The Bloomberg ad argues that the county’s soda tax “can make a difference,” by curbing these diseases and funding crucial public health care serves services in Cook County.

Of course, the Illinois Retailer’s Association, Big Soda lobby and Preckwinkle’s political enemies don’t give a whit about that.

There’s too much money to be made.  Last year, sales of carbonated soft drinks grew by about 2 percent, to $80.6 billion, reports

Preckwinkle’s political enemies are working to repeal the tax. Her heath rationale is a phony cover, they claim, and the county should look elsewhere for additional revenues.

They are salivating over a new poll out last week from We Ask America. It shows that 68 percent of Cook County voters disapprove of Preckwinkle’s job performance. They are mad about the sugar, and that has the taste of turmoil for her 2018 reelection plans.

Preckwinkle will be fine, but what about our kids?


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