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For Goldstein, Healthy Choices Bring Sweet Success


Harold Goldstein and this team cared about the connection between public policy and health before it was cool.

For 15 years, the Leader and his colleagues at the California Center for Public Health Advocacy have focused on creating a healthy environment for their fellow Californians – especially the youngest ones.

“We really got into the childhood obesity world a little before most people did, at least on the policy side,” says Goldstein, the center’s founding director.

The center advocates for policy change at state and local levels, including through grassroots organizing, strategic research, media advocacy and direct lobbying. The overall goal of all this work is to ensure every California resident has access to healthy food and water, and opportunities to be physically active.

One of the center’s first major policy accomplishments was its work to get a state law passed that removed soda from sale in California high schools. That same year, a state law for which it campaigned established what the center’s web site calls “the most rigorous nutrition standards in the country for food sold anywhere on school campuses outside the school meal program,” setting limits on fat and sugar content and portion sizes.

Goldstein and his colleagues followed that up a year later with support for increased funding for physical education, and then advocacy to require that chain restaurant menus include nutrition information; California was the first state to pass such a law, in 2008.

What kinds of results has the state seen from these measures being implemented?

“It’s pretty compelling,” Goldstein says. “Childhood obesity rates in California had been increasing steadily, and they peaked in 2005 … We’ve at least plateaued, let’s put it that way.”

“I’m not sure in the midst of all that work that any of us really imagined what the measurable impact would be. [But] if you think about it, even if half of kids were drinking a soda a day in school, that’s 240 calories.”

Sugary drinks, and the role they play in raising the risk of obesity and diabetes, are a particular health concern for Goldstein and the center, and one on which their advocacy has centered. The center’s latest initiative is in support of Senate Bill 1000, a state law that would require warning labels on beverages with added sugar. The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle earlier in April and faces another committee vote before going to the full Senate.

Goldstein noted that as with menu labeling, California is the first state to move forward legislatively on the issue of beverage warning labels.

“We’re not just in an obesity epidemic, but a diabetes epidemic,” he says, noting that newer science continues to confirm the health dangers posed by sugar consumed in liquid form. “People are starting to learn about and recognize the risks. If consumers want to keep drinking that stuff, that’s their choice. At the same time, let’s make sure they have that information.”

The organization’s slogan is “because health doesn’t happen,” and Goldstein says that idea informs all the work they do.

“Health is influenced by the world we live in,” he says. “We don’t make our choices in a vacuum, but in families and communities. What our center is all about is helping to ensure that the choices available to everyone in California are healthy choices.”

Donna Brutkoski authored this report.