Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Soda Tax (Again): Calories Kill People.

So much talk about the potential soda tax in the news and blogs today, mostly due to the most recent (and astute, concise, brilliant) article [that you must read immediately] in the New York Times by David Leonhardt, the crux of his article being this:

Soda consumption has changed — a lot. The typical person now consumes 190 calories a day from sugary drinks, up from 70 a day in the late 1970s. That 120-calorie increase represents about one-half of the total daily caloric increase during that span, C.D.C. data shows.

Of all foods and beverages, says Mr. Brownell, the obesity researcher, “the science is most robust and most convincing on the link between soft drinks and negative health outcomes.”

Just as important for the purposes of a soda tax, economic research has found that soda drinkers are price sensitive. In the past, when the price of soda has risen by 10 percent, consumption has dropped by an average of roughly 8 percent. This means a soda tax may not be quite as regressive as it sounds, because poor people would end up buying less soda than they now do.

Turn to Marion Nestle's blog where she points out the amazing graph that Leonhardt included in his article which shows that the cost of fruits and vegetables has risen in the last few years while cost of sugary beverages has gone down. I assume that consumption of fruits and vegetables has gone down while consumption of sugary beverages has gone up.

The question becomes this for debate, then: is it ok to tax soda? As Marc Bittman states on his blog, soda is an easy tax not just because it is unhealthy, but because it is 'intrinsicly unhealthy', meaning that it offers nothing but negative effects to not only the consumer/imbiber, but also the environment, much like cigarettes. Cigarettes kill people and cause deadly short-term and deadly long-term chronic diseases. Sodas cause obesity which put a huge strain on our healthcare system when it causes chronic, long-term care diseases such as diabetes. The money from the soda tax would go directly to funding the new administration's healthcare initiative, thus offsetting some of the expensive consequences of the problem with the problem itself. Moreover, as stated in yesterday's blog about people rethinking calorie count when it is displayed clearly in front of you, they rethink it just as much (if not more) when spending more money. Okay, blah blah blah, this is all probably intuitive and self-evident.

So, is it ok? On the one hand, I feel (like many taxes) this targets the middle and lower classes--not meaning that they necessarily consume much more soda, but that they feel the strain of extra pennies and dimes here and there much more than their upper-class counterparts. Why can't we just have much higher income taxes for those in the upper echelons and call it a day? Well, we know that's all unlikely and probably also a bit unfair.

At very base, however, I am in complete agreement with using taxes and other governmental means to help combat a very real, life-threatening, quality-of-life-demeaning problem that over half of this country suffers from: obesity. I also believe whole-heartedly that intense advertising by companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi send mixed messages to people (especially children) that influence their decisions. Now, it seems time to influence their decisions in a better direction. To combat this life-draining epidemic, we need to act soon and now before things become even more grave. Imagine the cost of healthcare that is needed for those millions of overweight and obese Americans that will suffer from walking problems, heart disease, lung disease, cancers, diabetes, respiratory failure, etc etc all from eating and drinking too many calories--eating those millions of calories because that is what they are told, day in and day out, to do by vicious corporations who send EAT MORE messages to up their profitiability. Finally, if the government is going to begin to generously (but deservedly) offer health insurance as part of a national policy and social welfare system, it is allowed to help in preventative ways. Now, let's hope they go beyond taxes to education programs and a new task force on the issue that tackles it with the money and force as these advertising departments do for huge calorie-pushing corporations.

Finally, click here.


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