I became an advocate for Latino health care access more than 25 years ago when I graduated from law school and began my career as a social justice advocate. At that time, the idea of a national model for health care was starting to gain traction under the Clinton Administration and our state’s Latino population needed a voice that would be heard in the halls of our Capitol here in California and in Washington D.C. This is why I founded the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC). At that time, Latinos experienced high rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes – all of which were having a devastating impact on our population. While the Affordable Care Act has been a great step forward in addressing access to health care and coverage, unfortunately, in the more than two decades working in this field, we still have not made enough progress to address the glaring health disparities associated with various chronic diseases.

Since the 1990s, Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic in this country. Despite the best efforts of our medical providers, this disease is rampantly escalating with no end in sight. Recent research from UCLA found that 55% of Californians have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. According to federal data, rates of diabetes have increased more than 175% nationally since 1980. It’s now the seventh-leading cause of death in California. These are staggering numbers considering that 90 percent of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, which is preventable.

This growing crisis has impacted our most vulnerable populations in staggering proportion. Growing rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and dental disease have attacked our Hispanic, African American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and low income communities. These populations often suffer high rates of obesity and other health issues associated with excess sugar consumption and poor nutrition. The recent UCLA research found that about 42% of Asian adults have pre-diabetes, 44% of Latino adults, 48% of white adults, 50% of African American adults and 55% of Pacific Islander adults – but many of them don’t even know it.

That is why we here at the California Primary Care Association have joined with LCHC and other health organizations in forming The Coalition for a Healthy California, which is sponsoring legislation to combat this growing epidemic. Assembly Bill 2782 (Bloom), places a health impact fee on the distribution of sugary drinks that will create a dedicated revenue source, the Healthy California Fund. Collected at the distributor level, this revenue will yield $3 billion per year which will be invested in our low-income communities and communities of color for prevention of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and dental disease. These are diseases which are tightly linked to excess consumption of sugar, the most prominent source of which is sugary beverages.

This funding will not cure an epidemic over night, but this legislation is a bold step that will go a long way in helping our high-risk communities in combating it. Specifically, The Healthy California Fund will create more physical education programs, develop new farm-to-school delivery programs, increase access to clean drinking water in our schools and establish more farmers’ markets to increase access to healthy foods and beverages in areas of need. It will also support programs to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health issues.

As an advocate for Latino health, the health of underserved communities, and the health of all Californians, I call upon all of us who care about these issues to take action. What we have done, what we’ve been doing, hasn’t worked. We have not moved the needle in any significant way – but we have an opportunity to do something today. Something that will have a real impact on those most at risk. I hope you will join me in supporting this legislation. To find out more, please visit http://coalitionforahealthycalifornia.org/.