Philadelphia could soon jump to the head of the public health class with new initiatives aimed at pushing residents toward healthier diets.
Earlier this year the city began to enforce new requirements that city restaurants display food labels on menus with information on calories and other information such as fat content. And now - at least under Mayor Nutter's proposed soft drink tax - the price of unhealthy sugar-sweetened drinks will go up.
That might reduce consumption in a similar manner as cigarette taxes attempt to reduce smoking, particularly among teens. Regardless, the tax would add an estimated $77 million to the city's coffers.
The mayor's proposed 2010-2011 city budget includes a 2 cents an ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened drinks from sodas to energy drinks and more. The proposed tax would not be imposed on baby formula and sugar free drinks. But it would mean an extra 40 cents for a 20-once bottle of Coke and 64 cents added to each quart of chocolate milk.
City health commissioner Donald L. Schwarz said $20 million of the estimated tax haul would go toward programs to promote exercise and healthy eating habits, my colleague Jeff Shields reported in today's paper.
Shields noted that New York, Massachusetts, and California are among seven states considering similar taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks. But Nutter's proposed tax is double New York's and far more than Chicago's 3 percent a drink tax. Chicago, Shields noted, is the only other major city with such a soft-drink tax.
Just last month, the city began phasing in enforcement of its strictest-in-the-nation menu-labeling law that requires restaurant chains to list calories on food tags and menu boards. A similar law will take effect in New Jersey next year, and dozens of such bills are pending around the country, including in Harrisburg.
On April 1, Philadelphia restaurants with individual menus must list calories as well as saturated fats, trans fats, carbohydrates, and sodium for each item offered. Earlier this year, my colleague Don Sapatkin reported that City Council approved the restaurant menu measure in 2008 in response to data that showed the impact of diet related chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The goal of the law was to make it simpler for people to make healthy eating choices, even when they are enjoying a night out at a restaurant. "It is really hard for people, if they eat out, to know about the sodium content" of a meal, for example, health commissioner Schwarz told Sapatkin in January.
So whether requiring restaurants to tell people how healthy each item on the menu is or a proposed tax on obesity inducing soft drinks, Philadelphia seems to on the leading edge of the push toward better nutrition and perhaps better public health.