Over the last two days I’ve written articles about how bad for your health soda and Red Bull, the world’s top-selling “energy drink,” are.
Most public health advocates are in agreement on this. And some are now calling for creating a separate tax on soft drinks in order to help pay for health care reform and as a way to help promote preventative health measures.
Soft drinks are the only beverage or food that has been shown to increase the risk of obesity. And obesity, in turn, promotes heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other expensive-to-treat diseases. All told, Americans spend about $90 billion a year in direct medical costs related to obesity, of which half is paid with Medicare and Medicaid taxpayer dollars.
Studies of soda consumption have shown that teenage boys who drink soft drinks consume an average of three 12-ounce cans and girls an average of two 12-ounce cans per day.
Studies also show that one in 10 boys who drinks soft drinks consumes five-and-a-half 12-ounce cans a day, or about 800 calories worth. It’s not the only reason, but the increase in soda consumption since the 1970s certainly helps explain why obesity rates have tripled in teens.
Advocates have called for a federal excise tax on soft drinks of anywhere from one cent per 12-ounce can to one cent per ounce of soft drink.
The higher the tax, the advocates state, the more money it would raise and the greater incentive would there be for reduced consumption, which would in turn help to reverse the obesity problem and improve overall health, thus cutting health care costs.
It has been estimated that a tax of one cent per 12-ounce can would raise $1.5 billion per year, and reduce consumption by 1 percent. And a tax of one cent per ounce would raise about $16 billion a year and reduce consumption by more than 10 percent.
One article that appeared recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by the New York City Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, advocated for the one cent per ounce excise tax, and said that based on experience with tobacco taxes, a soda tax would be “highly effective” in reducing the $79 billion in annual health care costs associated with obesity and overweight across the country.
Dr. Frieden argued that an excise tax would be more effective than a traditional sales tax and provide an incentive to buy less soda. The article says that since the mid-1990s, children have been drinking more beverages containing sugar than they do milk.
“Diet-related diseases also cost society in terms of decreased work productivity, increased absenteeism, poorer school performance and reduced fitness on the part of military recruits,” he wrote.
In a recent interview in support of his article, Dr. Frieden said that the Bloomberg administration in New York City had tried to combat obesity through calorie labeling, banning trans fats and serving one percent milk in school cafeterias.
But, he said, “Soda is the big one.”
Predictably, the soda industry shot back with a defense of their products. Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, issued a statement in response to the article:
“We agree that obesity is a serious and complex problem. It defies both science and common sense, however, to think singling out one product as a unique contributor to obesity will make a dent in the problem.”
Gee, what a surprise her statement is.
Other critics argue that a soda tax is regressive, because it will disproportionally hurt lower income people more than higher income folks.
That’s true as far it goes, but if soda tax revenues are used to help pay for expanded health care coverage and for prevention, lower-income Americans will enjoy the biggest share of the benefit.
So what do you think about taxing soft drinks? Feel free to leave a comment below.