PHILADELPHIA. Philly Wants To Tax Soda To Raise Money For Schools (National Public Radio)

Philadelphia's new mayor wants to do something few American cities have done: pass a tax on soda and other sugary drinks.

So far, Berkeley, Calif., has been the only U.S. city to approve such a tax. That measure was aimed at reducing soda consumption (and the negative health effects that go along with drinking too much of it).

But in Philly, the tax isn't being promoted as a scheme to bring down the city's high rates of obesity or diabetes. Mayor Jim Kenney says he wants to use the revenue for projects that benefit residents in a city with a 26 percent poverty rate, the highest of America's largest cities. He argues soda companies make big money and often market their products to low-income people.

"What we're looking to do is to take some of that profit, to put it back into the neighborhoods that have been their biggest customers, to improve the lives and opportunities for the people who live there," he said at a rally promoting the tax last month.

Read more. 

SAN FRANCISCO. Judge upholds SF’s pioneering law on sugary beverage ads (SF Gate)

San Francisco’s first-in-the-nation law requiring display ads for sugary drinks to carry warnings of increased risks of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay can take effect in July as scheduled, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in rejecting a challenge by the beverage industry.

“The warning required by the city ordinance is factual and accurate,” and is a “legitimate action to protect public health and safety,” said U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, who turned aside industry arguments that the advertising message is misleading and violates free speech.

The American Beverage Association, the California Retailers Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association sought the injunction against the requirement.

The ordinance, passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors last year and due to take effect July 25, requires publicly displayed advertising for sugar-sweetened beverages to display a warning label that takes up 20 percent of their advertising space, attributing the message to the city. It doesn’t apply to ads in newspapers, magazines, television, menus or product labels.

Read more.

NEW YORK CITY. Dr. Thomas Farley Takes on Big Food and Big Tobacco (The New York Times Well Blog)

A century ago, most local health departments concentrated their efforts on fighting infectious diseases like cholera, polio and tuberculosis. But today, many health departments have a very different focus: cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, some of America’s leading killers. Fighting these diseases often means promoting changes in lifestyle and behavior, and no health department has done that more aggressively than New York City’s.

Under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York’s health commissioners — first Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, and then Dr. Thomas A. Farley — took on smoking, sugary drinks, sodium, trans fats and binge drinking. Those battles weren’t always successful. A state court struck downthe city’s controversial soda tax initiative, and critics complained that New York City was becoming a “nanny” state.

But Dr. Farley, who served as New York’s health commissioner from 2009 to 2014, says the city’s efforts helped demonstrate that the key to eradicating lifestyle-related diseases is by changing environments — making bad choices harder and good ones easier. He makes a case for this approach in his latest book, “Saving Gotham: Billionaire Mayor, Activist Doctors, and the Fight for Eight Million Lives,” which shares the behind-the-scenes story of the Bloomberg administration’s radical approach to fighting chronic disease.

BALTIMORE. Baltimore's Leana Wen: A Doctor For The City (National Public Radio)

It's only March, but Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen already has an embarrassingly full calendar.

She's put together the city's plan for dealing with the Zika virus, launched a campaign against soda and other sugary beverages and overseen an investigation into why so many people in the city are overdosing on fentanyl.

Trained in emergency medicine, Wen, 33, says running the health department in Baltimore is the fastest-paced job she's had.