Don't Tax My Sugar

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ve had sugar on the brain for the past few weeks.  For one, I have been testing some lower-sugar dessert recipes for my hospital’s patient menu. Then, my husband came home from work and said that one of his employees said he heard that sugar is just as addictive as heroin and cocaine. “What’s up with that?” he asked. 
Well, what’s up with that, for those of you who don’t know, is that recent studies have shown that sugar poses dangers to health (such as chronic disease and premature death) that justifies controlling them like alcohol and tobacco products.
I don’t think anyone would argue with the authors that many people consume an excessive amount of sugar every day—up to 500 calories or 30 teaspoons of the sweet stuff.  In fact, sugar consumption has tripled over the last 50 years.  Foods with added sugars can be abused and are connected to high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and liver damage. 

However, is it the government's place to step in?

Some of the governmental interventions that have been proposed in response to the ''sugar epidemic'' are:
  • Taxation -- paying an extra $1.00 for a can of pop
  • Purchasing rights based on age -- your 14-year-old couldn’t buy a candy bar at the store
  • Bans from school functions -- no more sports drinks at soccer games
  • Zoning ordinances for selling the stuff -- no fast food establishments near schools
  • TV commercial regulations -- no more sugar-sweetened cereal commercials
  • Food labeling laws
  • The removal of fructose from the food listing as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)
So you may be wondering, where does Dietitian Becky stand on this topic? First, let me state that I am a firm believer in ''knowledge is power," truth in advertising, a free enterprise system and I oppose government regulation if at all possible. I despise scare tactics and shock-phrasing such as sugar is ''toxic," ''evil," ''public enemy number one," and ''as addictive as cocaine and heroin." I understand that sensationalism sells, but let’s stick to the facts. 
With sugar, the issue is quantity, plain and simple. You can have about 7% of your calories coming from sugar (6-7 teaspoons daily on a 1500-1800 calorie diet) with no problems. Go over-board with consumption day after day…month after month…and health problems can start to develop. 
I remember when I lost my recess in second grade because a few classmates couldn’t keep their mouths shut. I hated being punished for something I did not do.  So you can probably guess as to how I feel about having my sugar taxed.  With 27 years of nutrition counseling experience, I can say with confidence that people (myself included) do not like being told what not to eat or drink. No one values the words of the ''food police.''  And when someone is told not to have a certain food, guess what they want…the forbidden food… and usually in binging amounts. 
As a dietitian, I will be the first to say that the sugar listing on a food label stinks. A can of pop contains 40 grams of sugar…what the heck does that mean?  So first, let’s give consumers the knowledge they need and report the sugar listing on a food label as the ''added sugar'' amount in the food. List it in teaspoons and show it as a percentage of your daily upper limit as well—then it will actually mean something.
While I work with 11 million adult SparkPeople members, I also teach weight management classes in my community for children, teens and their parents.  I have worked with several hundred families over the past several years. Therefore, I read with great interest the results of a research study that was also published at the same time as this sugar-sensation hit the media. It did not make headline news or national TV or radio shows, but to me, it offered a glimmer of hope to truly solving our obesity crisis. 
The study focused on parents and 4-year-old preschoolers attending classes that focused on parenting skills. These classes were NOT about obesity, eating healthy, exercising, or limiting TV. Rather, these classes taught parents how to reinforce good behavior, discipline without physical punishment, improve social skills, and deal with emotions, stress and boredom.  Four years later, when these children were 8 years old, those who had participated in the classes with their parents had less than half the rate of obesity as the control group.  This was a surprising discovery that was not even an initial part of the studies.
The families with whom I work struggle daily with parenting appropriately and effectively…don’t we all? These are caring, loving adults who just don’t have the knowledge, experience, time, or resources regarding raising their children in a healthy fashion, both mentally and physically. 

Think about it. Our children who are stressed or bored discover outlets for their anxiety using a computer screen and a bag of chips. Our children who struggle with making friends start turning to cookies for friendship. Children entertain themselves during mealtime with the TV versus having a conversation with their parent at the table.  Perhaps, the solution to our country’s weight issue lies not with the taxing of sugar, but rather the implementation of a strong, functioning family unit. I have a feeling it will greatly benefit our children as well as the adults involved. While it may be easier and quicker to just lobby for a new law or tax, I hardly feel it is effective in really getting to the root of the problem.
So what do you think?  Do you want our government to implement a sugar tax?  Would this decrease your sugar intake? Would sugar regulations improve your health or the health of our society?  What techniques will really turn the obesity crisis around?