Friday, April 10, 2009
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?