A Healthy Tax on Soft Drinks Could Fund Programs and Lower Consumption

Taxing soda might help cap the alarming rise in consumption.

| Sep 19, 2009

We're drinking so much sugar-sweetened soda that it's become a taxing problem, according to a Health Policy Report published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. Between 1977 and 2002, Americans doubled their intake of sugary beverages. Unfortunately, that's not good news for anyone but the beverage companies. Although high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and fruit juice concentrates are naturally derived sweeteners (as opposed to artificial low- or no-calorie sweeteners), this added sugar has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The policy report cites a number of scientific studies that link sweetened beverages with increases in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  For example, a two-year study of middle-school students showed that their risk of obesity increased by 60 percent with every sugar-sweetened beverage they drank per day. In light of escalating healthcare costs (which are passed on to the government when those affected are unable to pay), it seems prudent to take action to stem this rising tide of sugary beverages.

The policy report proposes adding a tax to soft drinks as a way not only to generate funding for healthcare programs, but also to persuade people to cut down their intake of soft drinks-another "sin" tax, so to speak, similar to the taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. "Excise taxes could be levied on producers and wholesalers, and the cost would almost certainly be passed along to retailers, who would then incorporate it into the retail price; thus, consumers would become aware of the cost at the point of making a purchase decision," wrote primary author Kelly Brownell, PhD, from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. "The reasons to proceed are compelling."

A tax of a penny per ounce of beverage would increase the cost of a 20-ounce soft drink by 15 to 20 percent. According to the authors' estimates, this added cost would cause people to reduce their calorie consumption from sweetened beverages by at least 10 percent, enough to actually lose weight and reduce their health risks. 

Public support for taxes on food and beverages aimed at fighting obesity has already increased, according to the policy report, but opposition remains. Many of the objections to the tax sound familiar, in that they are similar to those used in the past by tobacco companies to oppose cigarette taxes. They include the obvious observation that a tax would not resolve the entire obesity crisis and the fact that a tax would place a greater financial burden on the poor. In response, the authors point out that the poor, who are most affected by illnesses related to unhealthy diets, would actually benefit because they would drink more water, which is both free and healthy. Moreover, the tax revenues would be channeled to programs promoting childhood nutrition, obesity prevention, and healthcare for the uninsured, all boons for people in financial straits.

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Source: New England Journal of Medicine Health Policy Report

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Categories: Beverages, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Government & Policy, Health, Losing weight, Pre-Diabetes, Sugar & Sweeteners, Type 2 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 19 September 2009

Taxes are already levied on colas. What they want to do, I understand, is increase the taxes on the junk drinks. Fine with me. Are they also upping the taxes on alcohol? Haven't been keeping up.

Posted by Anonymous on 19 September 2009

If I understand this correctly, diet soft drinks would also have the tax levied on them. Which means that those of us who see a diet soft drink as a good alternative to other beverages, that will destroy our glucose control, will not be able to afford to purchase a beverage we use as an aid to our glucose plan... especially the poor.

Why not just stress more recess and exercise for kids in school instead of confining them in their classrooms for recesses, lunch breaks, etc. (because the schools cannot afford the playground supervision anymore.)

No more taxes. The working people, and the unemployed ones, cannot pay their bills as it is.

I'm Susan Wilson from Michigan. I'm unemployed. We've been in debt counseling for a couple of years. There are no jobs in Michigan. We don't want to lose our home because of more taxes. Soft drinks? What's next?

Posted by Anonymous on 19 September 2009

Iam so tired of taxes, so now soda, get it people we all die,, let me have my diet coke in peace.. GET A LIFE PEOPLE

Posted by Anonymous on 19 September 2009

What happened to personal responsibility. This is just on more giant step toward tyranny.

Posted by Anonymous on 19 September 2009

When are we going to get rid of the nanny state and start taking responsibility for ones self.

Posted by Anonymous on 20 September 2009

It is none of the government's business to regulate our soda intake. I drink diet soda but that is MY CHOICE. If they put a tax on it, do it to raise money, not because it is for my own good. This government is too big and too intrusive.

Posted by Anonymous on 20 September 2009

" this added sugar has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease."
. . . and refined carbs have been linked to raising blood sugar. When will the tax on bread, cereal and pasta be introduced? Wouldn't it be better to just provide proper nutritional education for all and let people make their own decisions rather than the government 'punish' folks for their own choices?
Ivan C

Posted by Anonymous on 20 September 2009

Ridiculous. You do, of course, realize that diet sodas will be taxed equally? Coke and Pepsi, being multinational mega-corporations will ultimately be unaffected. Smaller beverage companies will be put out of business.

The government intrudes in my life enough, tyvm.

Posted by Gerry on 20 September 2009

Sounds good in theory, but,ur government doesn't have a very good track record in using tax money for the purpose it is collected.

As to the 'water is free' statement in this article, what planet are they from? Any city I have lived in charges for water, and rations it when the supply is low.
Bottled water is too expensive.

Posted by Jerry1423 on 20 September 2009

The bottom line is that this is really a stupid idea.
I am against any growth in taxation by any level of the government. If this type of thing is allowed then they will find more things to tax - including sugar free soda.
Let the people eat what they want, drink what they want, and smoke what they want - it is their right and priveledge to do what they want - even if it does hurt themselves. The government does not need to intrude like this - quite frankly it is very scary to see this type of thing proposed!

Posted by Anonymous on 20 September 2009

How large should our government be allowed to expand should be the question.

Posted by Anonymous on 20 September 2009

Not a good idea since it won't work. People will move on to other "foods" made out of that most unhealthy sugar "drug" high fructose corn syrup which is the real reason for the increase in sugar consumption, increased type II and obesity. If we want to stop this we have to stop eating these "synthesized" frankenfoods. And this is from an obese type II who is going to get lap RNY in three weeks. (That will break my addiction if I don't die on the table.) I'm looking forward to the corn industry rep posting to say I'm wrong even though HFCS is not chemically (exactly) the same as sucrose which is also poison in the quantities it is in our processed foods. The government taxing only one or two forms of the poison is going to only have unintended economic consequences and not be at all effective in curing a much bigger problem..

Posted by Anonymous on 20 September 2009

I'm sorry, but this is what it is...ANOTHER TAX! And the other commenter is right, the government has a VERY poor track record of using money for what they say they are going to use it for. Frankly, our society is WAY overtaxed. It is one of the reasons we can't compete in a world economy. This tax is truly another of many to support the liberal's agenda.

Posted by Anonymous on 21 September 2009

As the parent of a child living with type 1 diabetes, this proposed tax is worrisome to me because juice and regular soda can be used to treat low blood sugar. While we prefer to use glucose tablets, they are not items that non-diabetes households have on hand. If we start taxing these items and labeling them as unhealthy items, we put people living with Type 1 at risk for not having easy access to a sugar source for treating a low. I think this proposed legislation is a bad idea.

Posted by KevinPowell on 21 September 2009

The proposed "soda tax" is wrong. Has anyone actually thought this through? I am a competitive Ironman triathlete who also happens to be a Type 1 Diabetic. I train, on average, between 25 and 30 hours per week.
I routinely need to drink sugared soda and sports drinks to deal with insulin reactions. Am I now to be told that I am going to be penalized (with taxes) for being an endurance athlete?
The "architects" of this proposal are absolutely clueless...

Posted by Anonymous on 21 September 2009

Taxing soft drinks is not going to get folks to make healthier choices. I agree with other posters about that. However, I must disagree with Jerry1423: "Let the people eat what they want, drink what they want, and smoke what they want - it is their right and priveledge to do what they want - even if it does hurt themselves." As a Type2, if I eat/drink/smoke whatever I want, get horribly ill and need hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical care, can't pay for it and you have to, isn't that frustrating? Why do you have to pay for my lousy (and selfish) choices? Anyway, taxing sodas isn't the answer.
- Kim

Posted by Anonymous on 21 September 2009

What an inane concept. Tax everything that might hurt us. Since when did taxes solve any problems other than filling the pockets of politicians for more pork. A tax on soda is a tax is a tax is a tax. It would do nothing to curb diabetes. Anyone who suggests it will probably is in line to get some of the money. Pork by any other name is pork.

Posted by Anonymous on 21 September 2009

how about all of these government entitys try some of their own taxes??? you know, how about they pay for their own gas for a change. let them smog their own cars instead of using all of our tax dollars to fund their benefits. food taxes will be next. then breathing taxes... oops, that falls under the smog taxes..... is there anything anymore that is not taxed?

Posted by Anonymous on 22 September 2009

In my work as a diabetes educator at a tertiary care center's pediatric insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes center, I can attest to the fact that many, many of those who are addicted, for lack of a better word, to regular soda, Koolaid and other drinks with sugar, such as fruit juices, do not pay for them at all. They are bought with food stamps. So, this proposal would tax those not on food stamps only. Obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes hit those on food stamps the hardest, if we look at it from a socio-economic status. This same group receives honey buns and juice from free breakfasts, often eaten after having had a similar breakfast at home, which was purchased with food stamps. What is wrong with this picture? Obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes with its concomitant illnesses of fatty liver, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and sleep apnea, blindness and amputations are not the only conditions affected by this lack of common sense in enabling poor choices. Please read about its effects on dental health:
By Nate Jones
Staff Writer
The federal government cares more about saving citizens’ money than it does their dental health, Mount Vernon Democratic State Rep. Patricia Jones said.
“I’m a public health person,” she said.
Earlier this month, Jones joined other members of the state’s Health and Human Services Committee to oppose a bill prohibiting Maine residents from using food stamps to purchase soft drinks, although she said her preference would have been to move the bill forward with a positive recommendation.
“I worked in Head Start and saw a number of 4-year-olds who had to have teeth extracted just because their parents would let them drink Mountain Dew all the time,” she said.
Jones said she believed most of the families with children in Head Start were receiving food stamps.
“Dental treatment like that is very expensive - like $7,000 a whack. That’s a lot,” she said.
Ultimately, the bill will most likely be “shot down” when it is presented to the House later this month due to a conflict with federal law, said Scarborough Democratic State Rep. Peggy Pendleton, who sponsored the bill. According to an April 2 statement from the Office of Integrated Access and Support Department of Health and Human Services, state legislation cannot restrict the use of benefits distributed through the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - or SNAP - which includes food vouchers.
“The federal government shot us down big time,” Pendleton said. “The committee had no choice but to vote against it.”
Pendleton said she still believes SNAP has strayed from its original goal of providing vouchers for healthy food - similar to the WIC supplemental food program for women, infants and children - before “all of these other things just got added on,” she said. She said she was considering tackling the issue through education, hopefully encouraging people to not use the vouchers for soft drinks or other food that could result in expensive medical bills. Jones said she is skeptical of the effectiveness of adding an educational requirement for people receiving the vouchers.
“Education doesn’t have as much impact as - for instance - raising taxes,” she said. “We raised the taxes on cigarettes and there will be a lot more quitting smoking. I voted to tax beer and soda too. Environmental and policy change really help people change their behavior.”
Effective or not, education programs are something the Maine Beverage Association - which includes the five major soda distributors in the state - would be willing to support, Director Newall Augur said.
“It takes diet and physical activity changes to make a difference,” he said. “We are responsive to our customers and we know there are mom and dads out there who are uncomfortable that their child is making unsupervised decisions that affect their health. Four or five years ago our members took a unique and bold step to remove carbonated full calorie drinks from Maine schools. We did that on our own, without any prompting.”
Last month, SNAP Associate Deputy Administrator Jessica Shahin alerted officials at Boston’s Food and Nutrition Service of the Maine bill’s potential conflict with federal regulations, according to the April 2 statement.
“Ms. Shahin was very concerned and wanted to make sure that Maine knew that a request for a waiver to restrict the use of SNAP benefits beyond what in Federal regulations and the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 would not and could not be approved,” the statement reads.
For Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist, Pendleton’s bill is about more than changing state or federal law.
“The whole point is that a state stands up and said ‘The food stamp program needs to change,’” he said. “Success is not necessarily in granting the waiver, it’s Maine saying ‘We need a healthier population.”
Although it is unlikely the bill will come to fruition this year Augur said its existence could set a dangerous precedent.
“To single out a group of people and one particular product isn’t going to solve, or eve dent, the obesity epidemic in this country,” he said.
To check on the status of the bill, visit www.mainelegislature.org and search for LD 752.
When will we ensure public health measures with our taxes and laws, versus a bribe for votes, which is what many of these "health programs" are appearing more and more to be? Recently published, one study cited the need to begin teaching children self-control. Perhaps the legislators would be willing to take this on...

Posted by Anonymous on 22 September 2009

Not okay! I already pay way too much in taxes. Food and non alcoholic beverages should not be subject to tax, period.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 September 2009

I am a dietitian, diabetes educator, and person with type 1 diabetes. I work with people everyday who are 200+ pounds overweight. The majority of them drink regular soda by the liters. They can buy a 2 liter of chilled soda at the convenience store for less than a bottle of water. They drink a 2 liter like it is a single serving on the way home from the store. If you were looking at the results of soda overconsumption on a daily basis you may not be so apt to oppose this tax. I am in favor of freedom of choice. But people are literally dying because of the toxic environment we have created in our society! A tax on soda is not going to limit anyones ability to treat a low blood sugar! That is preposterous. This tax is proposed to not make sugary sodas the cheap and easy alternative. It will create some sort of barrier for the person who is drinking 3, 4 and 5 two liters a day. Let's think about our children and their future. Please.

Posted by Jerry1423 on 22 September 2009

It is good to see that everybody is against this ... please tell me who could be for it!

I do not smoke, drink (alcohol), eat poorly (I am a type 1 who tries to eat well). or do anything else to intentionly hurt my body - but if somebody wants to do the above things then please let them do it .... they will live a shorter life and use the government health insurance less.

Posted by Anonymous on 25 September 2009

A tax is not going to break the "addiction" to soft drinks! People have to be responsible for their own behavior. First we had the evil tobacco companies, then evil pharma, then evil health insurance co's, now evil soft drink manufacturers/corn growers...what industry will be next? Won't be the evil politicians, I would bet!

Posted by Anonymous on 28 September 2009

Another tax is not the answer here. Educate people to make sound food choices and leave the taxing to other means. Please don't tax diet soda. People with diabetes already have so many restrictions.

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