March 29, 2021 | Press Release

Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau Introduces Nutrition Equity Bill


Contact: Luz Martinez, Communications Director: lmartinez@dccouncil.us, (202) 262-8998

Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau Introduces Nutrition Equity Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to begin rectifying longstanding health inequities made even more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic, today Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau introduced the Nutrition Equity Amendment Act of 2021. She was joined by Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, and Chairman Phil Mendelson. The legislation increases access to nutritious foods for families at District shelters and transitional housing facilities, and promotes healthier beverage options by repealing the current existing 8% sales tax on sugary drinks, and instead imposing an excise tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on the distribution of sugary drinks in the District.

“One thing that COVID-19 has made abundantly clear is that we need to get serious about addressing health inequities in the District,” said Nadeau. “In drafting this bill, I brought together members of the communities impacted by health disparities, health experts and advocates to identify areas where public health interventions and investments can make a difference in the health and lives of our communities."

The legislation takes important steps toward providing equitable access to nutritious food for District residents experiencing homelessness by requiring that meals served at the District’s shelters and transitional housing are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and by applying greater oversight over food service vendors. It also establishes grants to support nutrition education, cooking lessons, and gardens at family shelters and transitional housing to create healthy environments.

This legislation seeks to address chronic diseases associated with the consumption of sugary drinks. Scientific evidence shows that the consumption of sugary drinks is a major contributor to increasing rates of diabetes and heart disease. Pediatrician and health and wellness expert, Dr. Yolandra Hancock says, “I’ve seen firsthand how the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events drives increased risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It is our collective responsibility to support policies that counter these effects and to provide equitable access to healthy foods.”

Sugary drinks represent a real health risk to children. On average, children in the U.S. consume more than 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year, and evidence shows that the beverage industry targets communities of color, with Black children and teens more than twice as likely to see TV ads for sugary drinks than their white peers.[1] “Knowing that the consumption of sugary drinks is directly linked to major health risks and that the beverage industry is targeting their ads at communities of color, we have to intervene and counter that impact,” said Nadeau.

The legislation repeals the current existing 8% sales tax on sugary drinks, and instead imposes an excise tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on the distribution of sugary drinks in the District. Excise taxes on sugary drinks are more likely to encourage a customer to make a healthy beverage decision because the increased price in the sugary drink appears at the shelf, not at the register. Similar sugary drink excise taxes in Philadelphia and Berkley reduced consumption of sugary drinks significantly while funding needed programs.

“To improve the health of our entire community we must focus on the ability to equally access affordable healthy food and drinks with lowered sodium, sugar and fats. With the lowest income neighborhoods having the most limited access to healthy drinks and full-service grocery options, we have a huge problem where, for example, many kids are getting over 10 times the amount of sugar recommended by the American Heart Association, said cardiologist and president of the American Heart Association Greater Washington Region Board of Directors, Dr. Federico Asch. “This is unacceptable and we must support the Nutrition Equity Act to provide better opportunities for all DC residents to live healthy, long lives.”

The legislation will allocate revenue to programs that increase access to healthy food options, expand community based nutritional programming, and target chronic disease prevention and management. The revenue generated by the tax will be administered by the District’s Food Policy Director. The proposed allocations include funding for:

  • “Healthy Food as Medicine” programs for food-insecure populations, through the Department of Health Care Finance;  
  • programs at DC Health aimed at reducing and preventing nutrition related chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease;  
  • funding to the Families First DC program to deliver nutrition education, cooking lessons, and healthy shopping lessons at Family Success Centers, which are all located in Wards 7 and 8; and
  • funding to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to expand experiential food literacy education for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten - 5.

The Food Policy Director will have the authority to issue grants to fund programs that promote healthy eating and active living with any remaining funds.