Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Pop star

How well taxes on sugary drinks really work is a subject of debate. A new study of Seattle’s “soda tax” is more comprehensive than most, and the results in this case appear definitive: the policy works.

The top line data show that sales of sugary drinks fell by a whopping 23 percent after the tax was implemented. The sample group was huge, representing 45 percent of all food store sales in the city over the course of three years. The declines held fast throughout the study period, suggesting they could be permanent. Then, the researchers attempted to address a crucial question: Did sales of other types of sugary products go up? Were people simply switching from soda to candy? They found that a small percentage did, but not nearly enough to cancel out the soda tax’s gains. In the end, the net reduction in sugary product sales held at 19 percent.

Seattle, Washington. Credit: Jeff Youngstrom / Flickr

This runs counter to the soda industry’s claims that such taxes simply push consumers toward other sugary products. “There was some offset for sure, but there’s still, at the end of the day, a substantial reduction in grams of sugar sold,” said the lead researcher. Nevertheless, despite the policy’s impact (or perhaps because of it), in response, the soda industry successfully pushed for a ballot initiative banning such taxes from the rest of Washington State.

Read more at Next City

Art therapy

When Number 600 Gallery opened in Shanghai in 2021, it was covered by a range of national media outlets, including the state-run Xinhua News Agency. The fact that it received so much press is astounding, for Number 600 isn’t just any gallery — it is housed in Shanghai Mental Health Center (SMHC), a place rarely spoken about in China. 

The gallery, showcasing works created by the hospital’s patients, has become a viral sensation. Observers say this points to a major mindset change in a country where mental health issues are highly stigmatized. But after two years of traumatic Covid lockdowns, there are signs that China finally seems ready to talk about mental health. 

SMHC’s gallery, which has been hashtagged 73 million times on Weibo, is just one example. A new Chinese TV drama called Psychologist advertises itself as the country’s first show to feature therapy. The Broadway musical Next to Normal, about a woman with bipolar disorder, premiered last year in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. And a Shanghai gallery exhibition about eating disorders recently became a nationwide topic of conversation.

This is SMHC’s second time in the spotlight: last year, the mooncakes sold in its cafeteria became a hot Lunar New Year gift. “The pandemic has made us all really see how important mental health is to us,” said one psychiatrist.

Read more at Sixth Tone

Shell game

The largest eelgrass bed in the continental U.S. is in Padilla Bay, just north of Swinomish Nation. These grasses provide a critical habitat for an array of local species, one of which is the Olympia oyster, the only oyster native to Washington State. Once nearly extinct due to overharvesting and habitat destruction, Olympia oysters have rebounded in recent years.

But in 2017, it looked like the Olympia oyster would once again come under threat when a change in federal policy opened up these eelgrass beds to the commercial shellfish industry. The Swinomish tribe fought the decision and won, and gained exclusive access to the area. Now the tribe’s own fishery, the Swinomish Shellfish Company, is demonstrating how to harvest oysters while also preserving their habitat.

padilla bay
Eelgrass in Padilla Bay. Credit: Washington State Department of Ecology

The company’s key rule is simple: don’t disturb the eelgrass beds. With this directive in place, scientists say it can harvest oysters for years to come while maintaining the health of the ecosystem — a long-range way of thinking that markedly contrasts with the commercial operations that decimated the oyster habitats in the past. “It was made clear to me early on that everything we were to do would have to be in line with protecting the environment,” said Stuart Thomas, an industry veteran who now works for Swinomish Shellfish. “Swinomish Fish Company is not just about revenue for the tribe.”

Read more at High Country News