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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I thought one of the great things about spark people is that it avoids political issues. This article clearly does not. While it's worth while in general to know what some governing entity proposes to address the health crisis partially as a result of our immoderate consumption, asking opinion on government approach crosses a line. The sugar and sugar tax issue has a history that is not discussed by the article, but in the sake of sticking with the reason I'm on SP, I won't even go there. Report
The government needs to stay out of our personal lives and concentrate their efforts on getting us out of this huge quagmire of governmental regulations and debt they have gotten us into by passing stupid laws like this. It should be our choice what we put into our bodies and what we do to our bodies. This is simply common sense, and there seems to be none of it in our government today! Report
It's misleading to say that you're opposing the government stepping in.

The government already is in, because they are subsidizing the production of sources of sugar like High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Pulling the subsidies off of unhealthy foods and/or taxing them, and then either keeping the money or using it to push down the prices of healthier options wouldn't exactly be hurting anyone's freedom to chug a case of cola if they wish.

Also, imposing a tax (or removing subsidies) does not mean that it has to be the ONLY thing you do. You're presenting a false dichotomy that indicates that we must choose one or the other. There is absolutely no reason that steps to stop making highly processed food artificially cheap can't be taken at the same time as other measures are put in place to encourage good health. Report
This is truly one of THE BEST blogs I have read in a long time. Very informative and you give an excellent alternative approach. I wholly support the idea of better parenting classes seeing the results of poor parenting every day as a teacher of emotionally disturbed teenagers - some of who have weight issues along with their behaviors and poor social skills. Report
Great blog! Thank you! I agree to No thank you to big government help in our diet or sugar regulation TAX. Thanks again! Report
Putting a government tax and further control of sugar will have basically the same results as the government's attempts at controlling alcohol and illegal drugs. Those who truly want it will find a way to get it. Therefore, the government needs to stay out of the sugar-regulating business. I'll stop here lest I get on my soap box about our government as it serves us these days. Report
I think it is really interesting that a liberal viewpoint gets a a blog, would a conservative be offered the same? Not on Spark.

The governement, namely this current admin, is a FAILURE at its own job....protecting the rights of the people. Big Brother may think they know what is best for the masses but this is a country of choice. Instead of worrying about what people are sticking in their mouths they should be balancing the budget.

Geez...Why do people think a nanny state is the way to go??? If someone wants to eat a 5 pound bag of sugar a day....that is their choice...why should I care, why should you care and above all why should the government care????!!!

Enough of this liberal agenda......I find it rather offensive. Report
I'm with DDORN on this. I think our food is being manipulated to a degree that most of us are not aware, and sugar is being added to foods more than people realize. It's important to remember, as well, that the "free choices" of the processed food industry are leading to great profits for them, and substantial excess health care costs and mortality for the rest of us, that we all share the cost of that as taxpayers and insurance holders. Before I go any further down the path of our health care woes, let me just say that I understand what people mean when they say they are addicted to sugar. My body reacts that same way. I'm okay with foods that are naturally sweet, but give me foods that have added sugar and I become obsessed. The more of it I eat, the more I want. I have to keep stuff like that out of my house, because I can't rely entirely on self-discipline and willpower to keep me from over-consuming it. Sugar is so cheap and abundant that you find it everywhere. At my job, people keep candy dishes on their desks, and bring in sweets to celebrate every occasion. My work environment is polluted with sugar, especially in the late fall. I wouldn't mind if it were a little more expensive so the food industry would use it a little more sparingly, and people would naturally buy a little less of it. Besides, maybe if we devoted less overall acreage to sugar, we could reduce hunger and grow more of, and reduce the price of, things that are more healthful. Just a thought. Report
I agree entirely. It's the families job to step up and educate themselves and their children about a nutritious balanced diet.

I do not agree with the governments constant attempts to step in and try to monitor and regulate our eating for us. Those of us that care learn it without being forced by the government's taxation efforts.

Sadly - there are people who don't really care about proper nutrition no matter what the government does and I really don't think that's going to change. Report
If the question is truly about taxation of sugar, that's one thing. But is that the only question here? Is it about healthy choices and forcing American's to make healthy choices?

I'm leaning towards printing the truth about sugar. Then people can make their own choice as to how much. And yes, I work with children who's parents allow them to eat tooooo much sugar and suffer the consequences. But there are no easy answers. Report
If the government is really so concerned about our health, instead of punishing us for bad choices, why don’t they motivate us to make good choices? Like writing grants for gym memberships (our senators get free gym memberships), or providing coupons for fresh fruits and vegies. It seems to me that would be much more affective, and even with the spending for that, they still might save a dime due to decreased medicals bills coming in. I would like to thank Becky for bringing up what can be a touchy subject, but one that needs discussing all the same. Report
In the 1920's it was illegal to use alcohol, but people did it anyway. Taxing sugar won't solve the problem of obesity. Taxing sugar won't solve the problem of a poor diet. Taxing sugar will just increase the coffers of government and steal money that honest people worked hard for. After we tax sugar, we'll tax salt, then meat, then ??? When will it ever end? I'm glad I'm 65 and won't be in this world much longer, because it sure is getting crazy in this country! Report
If the government does anything they should look at the companies food lableing and make the companies tell the truth about what is in the food they are selling us and it should be 100% right not 80 % right. And stop having many names for the same ingredent. It hard to not eat something when there are 20 different names for the same thing.

Also educate parents on how to parent children and eating healthy is one of the topics. Report
I always love these type of blogs because they "spark" such debate. I only WISH there were more personal responsibility in our society that even talk of this wouldn't be needed. My problem is that many parents are harming their children (who have no real say in it) by their own poor choices (and this extends not just to food, but allowing children to do dangerous things that they are not old enough for, not using safety equipment..seatbelts for example, etc). Who pays when these children are injured or become sick? Society, in general, and sometimes we taxpayers foot the bill for chronic illnesses and physical problems that could (and should) have been avoided. I don't have the answer, but I am more frightened by the state of this nation's health than I am by the prospect of a tax (which I don't believe will ever happen) on sugar or fast food. Report
I agree with RACINGSLUG. This is just a very thinly disguised rant on a political position, not a healthy living discussion. I'm not terribly surprised by the byline, but I'm disappointed that it shows up as a dailyspark entry. Report
I love this woman! Someone finally speaking the truth! I love my (diet) pop and it's my one vice I'm not giving up! No matter what they charged, I'd still buy it. Same for the idea of taxing junk food. I personally think that overweight people know that twinkies, candy and cake are not healthy!! But they want to eat them!! When I was overweight, I knew what I ate was unhealthy too. For whatever our individual reasons are, we still chose to eat them. Charging more money will not stop that. The govnmt needs to get out of our lives!! Report
Government intervention on what we eat?? Wait a minute, where do I live? Surely this is not the USA proposing such socialist/communist ideas!!!

If a person chooses to eat themselves into oblivion and obesity, isn't that THEIR choice??? Stop telling people how to live ... "Survival of the fittest" remember that!! If you want to do something, cut off FREE HEALTH CARE for those who have been warned about their weight issues and refuse to try to improve. Report
NO MORE GOVERNMENT. They need stop subsidizing things that are more horrible than sugar. How about tobacco, pornography, various drugs, not to mention various small groups interests that are dangerous to our communities and our country. JUST STOP. I personally am tired of the interference. Report
We don't need a nanny state for our government. We need our government to get out of our kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and the whole house in general. Why can't they build roads and put out fires like they were intended to do? For that matter they can stay out of my healthcare too! I'd be better off if they did! Report
P.S. We have only a bazillion advertising dollars spent every day by major food corporations to influence our food choices. They are not in the business of throwing their money away without a powerful, potent impact on our choices. Except for a very small minority of highly aware, strongly willed people, we are ANYTHING but a free country!

Don Report
I'm with Robert Lustig when he says "Ultimately, my issue is how do we get the added sugar out of the food that was put there very specifically for the food industry's purposes, not ours? And I'll be happy to consider any alternatives that ultimately lead to that ultimate goal."

Don, Co-Leader of All Health Professionals, Binghamton Area Losers & Laid Off But Staying Strong SparkTeams Report
I'd like us to remain a free country! Report
I don't want the government to be regulating or taxing MANY of the things they already do!! And certainly NOT increasing interference and control over food choices and health. NOTHING improves with government interference. Stop subsidies AND contradictory bans/ regulations (ie, subsidizing corn for high fructose corn syrup, and then threatening to restrict or sanction 'fructose' in general). Send the politicians away from my health maintenance and choices (as well as my health care). Report
Cant live without my Spenda Report
I think we need to place exorbitant taxes on all food - so high that no one could afford to eat at all. That would effectively solve the obesity problem in our country and we wouldn't need to worry any more! Seriously, I don't have all the answers, but I do know that I do NOT want the government telling me what I can and cannot eat without penalty. I should have the freedom to choose and the education to choose wisely!
Great article. I agree with many on here - the government is just becoming way too intrusive.

Taxes are not the answer. Report
They have had a tax on candy and sugar-sweetened drinks in Colorado for a few years now and I haven't seen any reduction in sales of those items. You can't, however, buy juice that HASN"T been sweetened with sugar without being taxed, either. The ONLY reason they added that tax was so the politicians could get their hands on more money to spend, not for any health reasons. They also have an extra tax on restaurant and fast food joints food (for a couple decades), but more people go there all the time. There is more of a problem with people being unable to afford healthier alternatives. You can afford a $1 greasy 1/4 pound hamburger at a fast food place that includes your bun, a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce, ketchup and mustard easier than you can afford $4 a pound for the meat, $2 to get the bun, $1 for the tomato, $1 for the lettuce, $1 each for the ketchup and mustard. True, those things will make more than one serving, but you are at the cost of the entire first serving with just the cost of the ground beef (or ground turkey, which is $4 ON SALE usually). Report
What has happened to "personal responsibility"? Government has gotten way too big for its' britches! Any more government mandated regulations and we will implode. Report
I think the government needs to stay out of it. I've seen nothing in the group of politicians that we have that indicates to me that they are capable of making better health decisions for me than I am. Report
I do not need and am totally resentful of the Government telling me what to do and not do. Ok, safety matters aside, why you want a "nanny" telling you how to live? Yes, by all means, educate, but lay off the foolish laws. Get on with REAL national business. Report
No Way! We're taxed to death enough! Until the government can spend OUR MONEY in a more effective way, they don't need any more! Report
There is an assumption that if you tell people not to smoke and how dangerous it is, that they will stop. The same assumption is made with drinking. Now they are trying to say that about sugar.
But the truth is that people are going to do what they want to do. Which is why taxing cigarettes hasn't stopped kids and adults from smoking. They know it is dangerous. They watch people in their families and communities get sick and die, and light-up another one. Taxing the cigarettes means that they steal them from their mother's purse or pool their money together with like-minded kids. They do the same thing with alcohol. Except they get an other brother/cousin/buddy to buy it for them.
Sugar is an addiction. And deprivations is going to make them want it even more. People know that it can lead to diabetes and weight gain, yet they don't want to go without it. They need it. I saw a 10 year old at a school that I worked in kick down a fence so that he could run to the corner store. Why? He wanted something sweet. Had I told him how dangerous it was, would he have decided to grab an apple instead. Probably not.
We live in a fast food nation and sweets come along with the package. So people who decide to give up sugar do so because
1) they are aware of the dangers of consuming it and
2) they are willing to do what is necessary to limit their intake of it.
Most people aren't willing to take that type of responsibility. Any measures taken to limit or control sugar intake will result in increased efforts to get around them. Pooling money together, looking for sales, getting others to buy it for them. etc.
Just like someone can go to some stores and buy one cigarette or one beer. I see a day when people will be able to go into a store and for 25 cents buy a few pieces of candy. Oops! They already have those. They are called candy vending machines. You can find a lot of them at the malls in the area. Any tax proposed will be added to the price and raise it 10 cents or so, and kids will be able to get their fix anytime they want. It won't work. Report
Actually I think you should re-examine YOUR attitude to sugar. 6-7% per day of actively harmful calories? The human bloodstream is "normal" with one teaspoon of sugar in it. Add more and you add a ton of insulin, which, over time, is horrific for people's health. Bad advice.

Taxation won't stop people from eating the sugar, but, like taxing cigarettes, it will help mitigate the exobitant cost in poor health for those who abuse sugar. Ditch sugar and refined grains, fellow fat folks, and just SEE how great you look and feel! Report
I just think that the government is taking some things a little too far. A 12 year old who spends his life watching tv and eating unhealthy snacks needs some intervention. Probably for their whole lifestyle. A 12 year old playing 3 hours of soccer several days a week and riding bike to and from school and practices probably needs a few extra calories in the form of some sugar or refined carbs to get what they really need.
I am not advocating fast food or sugar consumtion but a moderate calorie sports drink like say Gatorade 2 and some granola bars or oatmeal cookies are very appropriate for a young athlete. Reality is an occasional candy bar wont hurt them either. The point is supposed to be balance and moderation.
I just read about the military food overhaul and wonder what they are going to do. Young men in Marine basic training all come out pretty lean. I don't think there calories should be cut. They need to eat some rich foods to get 4000+ calories they need in in a day.
We still have active healthy people on the world that need, yes I said need, some calorie dense foods. Report
Most of the proposals you listed (tv commercials ban, zoning fast food away from schools, age restrictions on candy purchases and the end of sugary drink sales at school functions) make perfect sense. We do the same with cigarettes and the tobacco states are still in the Union. Face it, Capitalists usually don't change their ways until their wallets start aching. Why should the healthy be stuck paying for the health problems of the obese or smokers? If you don't like the tax idea, how about denying health care to the obese if it's proven they're fat's not caused by medical problems? Report
Let's say for the sake of argument that we decide it is a good idea to regulate sugar like alcohol or tobacco. My next question is, shouldn't we also regulate salt, fat and cholesterol? Excess sugar can lead to health problems like diabetes, but excess salt can lead to high blood pressure and excess fat and cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Aren't they just as dangerous as excess sugar?

I personally do not believe the government should tell me what I as an individual can and cannot eat. I should be responsible for what I do or don't put in my mouth. But even if you disagree with me on this point you would have to agree that regulating excess sugar is only one component of people's bad food choices. We will have to regulate a lot more than excess sugar if we want to give the government control of our dietary choices to improve our health. Report
This is how the rumors start - no one has proposed a dollar tax per can of soda. Advocates have proposed a penny or 2 cents per can. Reality gives you a little bit different idea of what's going on. And who does it benefit - the best plans advocate that those tax revenues go directly to educating consumers and providing them with cheaper healthy options where they aren't available.

That said, I'm not really sure that this is the top of my list for changes to our food system. I think better labeling, improving the quality of school meals, eliminating government subsidies to factory farms, eliminating restrictive tariffs, and finishing the task of getting trans fats out of food should have higher priority. But I don't entirely rule out a small tax on sugary drinks to fund healthier food options. Report
I see my money being taken away from my family and not too far behind that will be my right to choose.

It's coming - so dont be surprised when it does. Plus I think we're all missing the bigger picture as in who will be benefiting from these taxes. No One thats who. People will still buy it and pay a higher tax and not have any additional knowledge about it. Who did it benefit? not the people

Do we really have to have a hundred different names for sugar? Maybe if the labels and big food co. didnt have rights to mislead the public into thinking they're product is good for you.

Dextrin - Dextrose - Maltodextrin - Sucrose - Xylose - Sorghum - Saccharose

Even sugar alcohols in DIABETIC foods are not void of sugar - what do you think sugar alcohol is made from? you guessed it, SUGAR.
I completely disagree with this blog post. Sure, nobody likes being told what to do, especially when it comes to our food, but the government already meddles in our food. Our food is already HEAVILY regulated. Soda is a vice, just like cigarettes and alcohol. *I* don't smoke but I do choose to drink alcohol. Therefore, since I choose to drink alcohol, I should pay whatever taxes are associated with it. If the tax becomes too unbearable, then stop. The same concept applies to soda. If *you* choose to drink it, then be prepared to pay the tax penalty. If you don't like the tax penalty, no one is forcing you to drink the soda. Report
You can't regulate common sense and no matter how many laws/ rules are passed, you need common sense to make most of the decisions in life. Report
If education was the key we'd be a much healthier nation, because it is impossible now to be unaware of the dangers of obesity, consumption of trans fats, sugar etc. That information is everywhere even if you don't choose to hunt it out. A hundred years ago there was very little information, and yet the rates of obesity were dramatically lower than they are now. It's a great deal more complicated than that -- sedentary life because of how technology has changed, urban living with lowered opportunities for growing food and for exercise; ease of access to unhealthy food; the less healthy the food is, the less expensive it is; and then there's stress. Report
Great!! What else can the government stick there noses into?? And, does that include artificial sugar (ie Splenda) Report
I think this article is a political rant disguised as health advice. The easiest way to destroy the camaraderie on SparkPeople is to divide us politically. I just like to come here for some positive support, not negativity and arguments. Report
Articles like this are what have made me lose complete confidence in nutritionists. Up to 7% of calories per day from sugar is okay?? In what universe? Completely and utterly ridiculous. Report
I agree to an extent. I also see other eastern countries mandate the reduction of artificial sugars and also natural sugar sugars in their beverages. Even the big companies like 'Coke' makes a special formulas sold only in those countries. Why do they sell the more sweeter sodas in US. Other countries also offer more natural teas in a soda form for their users in vending machines.

This is more a social behavior issue and everyone should be involved in helping.
The big companies are mandated in other countries to sell more healthy products but in the US. Report
I agree with Aspeck303. Cut and adjust subsidies to match what a healthy diet actually consists of. Look at this chart about why a Big Mac costs more than a salad:

THAT is a problem. I wouldn't have a problem with a sugar tax. A salt tax too. Then maybe people will learn to COOK in a more healthy way.

But if not TAX, there certainly shouldn't be SUBSIDY. It's just going in the other direction and for all the "government shouldn't be involved" people, subsidy is still government involvement.

If we're not making it harder to get sugar, we certainly shouldn't be making it easier just because some multi-billion corporations are begging the government for a handout so they can make more money. Report
Thank you, you hit the nail on the head. Report
I believe governments do not tax things that are "bad" for you in order to benefit public health. They want to impose new taxes or increase taxes on popular items for the money, plain and simple. If they cannot control the production or distribution of the item, they make it illegal. Let it be our choice what to eat or drink and if something really is a public health threat, education is the solution, not taxation. Report
How about instead of taxing it we cut back subsidies on it?

We do need something to make us more aware of how much sugar we eat. 7 teaspoons of sugar is about 60 grams, which is 1/3 of what Americans eat daily on average.

Have two servings of dairy (without flavorings), a serving of whole fruit, spaghetti sauce, and salad dressing, and you're at that 60 grams ~ without having a desert, or a mocha, or even instant flavored oatmeal. Report
Taxing sugar is another dumb idea. When poor people couldn't afford sugar products then the politicians would have to set up a new entitlement program for them because it wouldn't be "fair" if they couldn't afford sugar products. Only the rich could eat sugar. Just creating a new problem - very silly. How about some personal responsibility!! Report