Friday, 10 April 2009

Soda tax

For some reason, this topic is very controversial. Let's look at both sides.

New York City's health commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden and Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University argue for taxing sugared beverages in this week's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

40 states have small taxes on sugared beverages but in the past year, Maine and New York, and other states, have proposed larger taxes.

These are the authors' main points for this tax:

- Research indicates that sugared beverages (soda sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, carbonated and uncarbonated drinks, energy drinks) are associated with increased weight and risk of obesity, poor nutrition, increased risk of diabetes. As a result, sugar-sweetened beverages may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic.

- Sugared beverages account for 10 to 15% of the calories consumed by children and teenagers. For each extra can or glass of sugared drink consumed a day, a child has a 60% increased risk of becoming obese.

- For every 10% increase in price, it is estimated that consumption would decrease by 7.8%. An industry trade publication reported that as prices of soft drinks increased by 6.8%, sales dropped by 7.8%, and as Coca-Cola prices increased by 12%, sales dropped by 14.6%.

- If 1/4 of the calories consumed from sugared beverages are replaced by other foods, the decrease in consumption would lead to an estimated reduction of 8000 calories per person per year which would result in a weight loss of just over 2lbs a year for the average person, reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease substantially.

- The cost of unhealthy eating is an estimated $79 billion annually for overweight and obesity alone.

- A penny per ounce excise tax on soft drinks would raise an estimated $1.2 billion in New York State alone.
- Americans consume 250 to 300 calories more daily than they did decades ago, nearly half of which are a direct result of sugared beverages.

Opponents of the tax contend that:

- Taxing food is not like taxing alcohol or tobacco since people need to eat to survive.

- It is unfair to single out one food to tax and taxing one food will not solve the complicated obesity epidemic. Dr. David Jenkins of the U of Toronto (who holds the Canada Research chair in metabolism and nutrition) suggests that a better idea would be to use rewards, such as making gym memberships and exercise programs tax-deductible.

- Susan
Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, contends that taxing sweetened drinks would have no effect on reducing obesity but would only financially harm families because of higher grocery costs.

- The "Nanny State" argument: It shouldn't be government's role to determine or influence people's diets.

What do you think?


Jme said...

I think that if soda has no dietary value than it should not qualify as food and then it should be taxable. The reason food is not taxed is because it is not a luxury. I think drinking soda is.

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

I completely agree!
Thanks for your comment Jme...

Sweta said...

They not only need to put a tax on soda but also make it mandatory for the manufacturers to put a "statutory warning" on every bottle!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jme, but I do not agree with the idea of making gym memberships tax deductible. With this idea, it is like saying that only people with gym memberships can exercise. That makes no sense, the government should then make ALL sports equipments tax deductible. Poor poor argument Dr.Jenkins...

Anonymous said...

Would diet soda be taxed as well?

Leandra Hallis M.A. said...

I think the idea of making gym memberships tax deductible is a great's true that people can resort to alternative exercise methods but certainly exercising with others (ie. in a fitness class or under supervision of a trainer, or just surrounded by others) is motivating.

Gym memberships are so pricy! Some people just can't afford to go to a gym- and running/exercising in an impoverished area of town is sketchy.

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Sweta, I agree that a statutory warning (as appears on tobacco products) should be placed on soda and other sugared beverages. Of course, there are those that oppose this:

In 2005, Connie Dieckman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, was quoted as saying:
"Just putting a 'yuck' sticker on it isn't going to work," adding,
"If we're going to label one food, we better get ready for labels on lots of different foods, couches, cars, televisions and computers since all of those things might play a role in the growing problem of obesity".

I think that's a weak argument. Yes, there are many factors that contribute to obesity but that doesn't mean we should ignore a major one- sugared beverages.

Naz, from what I've read, the tax would only apply to non-diet soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Thanks for your comments!!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for your comments re: exercise.

Doing my taxes (Canada), I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are tax exemptions for parents that enroll their kids in physical activities- and, one one hand, I do think that the same should apply to adults. It's true that gym memberships are pricey, so although offering tax breaks for gym memberships would encourage the middle and upper class to join, it probably wouldn't be enough to incite members of the lower socioeconomic class to join. Nonetheless, YMCA memberships could be included (and the Y offers lower prices for those that need it) as well as physical activities and sports taken in community centres...

That said, I'm a runner and very active, but I'm not a member of a gym. Is it "fair" to give tax breaks to the people that exercise in gyms versus those that choose to exercise outside of one?

It probably wouldn't be possible to make all gym equipment tax deductible (where do you draw the line- running shoes? bathing suits?!)...

However, offering tax breaks to people enrolled in sports or that hold a gym membership may encourage more to join- which would be great- and wouldn't dissuade me from running.

You have to start somewhere, right?