Leveraging Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes to Address Health Inequities

Dr. Kristine Madsen is Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the Faculty Director for the Berkeley Food Institute.  She is a pediatrician and research scientist with expertise in the design and evaluation of interventions related to pediatric obesity, cardiovascular risk, and health disparities. Through her early work as a UCSF faculty pediatrician, seeing patients in the pediatric obesity clinic, she realized that counseling patients and families about healthy eating and exercise would not increase their access to safe, health promoting options—instead, changes needed to be made to children’s environments.  Dr. Madsen works to identify programs and policies that will reduce childhood obesity and its attendant health disparities. Her team is currently conducting research to improve the quality and quantity of physical education in elementary schools, discover innovative approaches to improve child nutrition in schools, and identify impactful policies in schools to reduce obesity and weight-related disparities.  Dr. Madsen earned her M.D. and M.P.H from the University of Indiana, and holds a B.A. in both Mathematics and English from the University of California, Berkeley. She has served as an expert witness to the California Legislature Budget and Finance Committee to discuss her research on sugar-sweetened beverage taxes.

Project Description | Dr. Madsen is working with researchers and community leaders to disseminate evidence about the impacts of sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes on SSB consumption, and funding for equitable obesity prevention and community health promotion programs. SSB consumption is a major contributor to obesity, and over 50% of U.S. adults and 61% of of children consume SSBs every day.  SSB consumption is particularly high among low-income families and communities of color who are disproportionately targeted by SSB marketing and bear a disproportionate burden of diet-related disease. While four California cities—Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco—have passed soda taxes, new legislation (AB 1838) prevents all other CA cities from passing local soda taxes. Dr. Madsen’s research team conducted the first study on the longer-term impacts of Berkeley’s soda tax on SSB consumption, and this and other research strongly suggests that SSB taxes have the potential to reduce SSB consumption in low- income neighborhoods, and generate revenue for obesity prevention and community health programs.  By combining data on SSB purchasing and consumption, local government SSB tax revenue spending, and community perceptions, the goal of this project is to disseminate evidence that can be used to combat laws that prohibit new soda taxes and disempower communities from securing local resources to address health inequities. Critical to this project is the urgent need for public information about how soda-tax revenues are generated and spent, so that policy recommendations are made to increase the efficacy, equity impacts, and transparency of SSB taxes. Dr. Madsen and her team are developing a series of videos, fact sheets, infographics, and regional briefings to disseminate information about SSB taxes, and to support community participation in community health promotion.

Community Partners | Dr. Madsen is collaborating with the Praxis Project(link is external)(link is external)—a leader in public health and community organizing efforts to advance health equity and justice for all communities—to reach key grassroots stakeholders who will make effective use of the findings from this project.