Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/The S.F. ExaminerSupporters of Proposition E

Soda tax supporters litter Dolores Park with fake severed legs to call attention to diabetic amputations

As election day nears, soda tax supporters littered a section of Dolores Park with 200 severed mannequin limbs Sunday, calling attention to one of the most dire consequences of diabetes: amputation.

If passed Tuesday, the sugary beverage tax measure, Proposition E, would impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in San Francisco. It would require two-thirds of votes for approval.

Supervisor Scott Wiener and Eric Mar's ballot initiative faces a tidal wave of carbonated-backed dollars, as the American Beverage Association has spent over $9 million to defeat the tax in San Francisco. A similar measure is on the ballot in Berkeley.

But the stakes are high not just because of the money, but because of the rising rates of diabetes in the nation, Proposition E supporters say.

Supporters note that the effects of diabetes can eventually lead serious health conditions, including the amputation of limbs, as sugar blocks blood flow in the lower extremities of diabetic sufferers.

“Diabetics often go blind, or have problems leading to kidney failure and dialysis,” Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a retired cardiologist and former Richmond city councilman told The S.F. Examiner. “[Diabetics] often also get problems with blood flow to the lower extremities. A little pinprick, or even cutting their toenail wrong can lead to the amputation of a limb.”

Those with diabetes often contract Peripheral Arterial Disease. This reduces blood flow to the feet and can lead to amputation, according to the American Diabetes Association. To call attention to this, over 200 fake limbs were strewn on a hillside by the Dolores Park playground, as children played nearby Sunday. The location was appropriate, event organizers say, because what was once known as Adult Onset Diabetes is now a disease that impacts many kids.

The human body treats liquid sugar differently than sugar in foods, Prop E supporters said, because people do not feel satiated after drinking sodas.

“We're trying to help people understand type 2 diabetes isn't something you just take a pill with and deal with,” Maureen Erwin, a spokesperson for Prop. E told The Examiner.

Diabetes rates in San Francisco are reportedly rising highest in neighborhoods with high populations of people of color, including the Bayview and southern districts. To represent the multitude of people diabetes affects, the limbs were painted many shades of skin colors.

As many as 250 legs, feet and toes are amputated from diabetics per day in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ritterman said in his time as a cardiologist, he's had patients experience excruciating pain in their legs due to diabetes.

“People are begging for amputations because they're getting gangrene,” he said. “We didn't understand this connection to sugar-sweetened beverages until this past decade.”

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