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Would a Soda Tax Help Fight the Fat?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With the increase in obesity rates among young people and adults, policy makers are always looking for ways to discourage the excess consumption of unhealthy foods. One idea that's getting been getting attention in recent months is food taxes. According to a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine, "Even if one quarter of the calories consumed from sugared beverages are replaced by other food, the decrease in consumption would lead to an estimated reduction of 8000 calories per person per year slightly more than 2 lb each year for the average person."

Two states (Maine and New York) had proposed large taxes on sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks (a penny per ounce). Both proposals have since been dropped due to industry and voter opposition. But proponents could be onto something: studies show that increasing consumption of these kinds of drinks increases the risk of diabetes and obesity. Reduced consumption of these drinks appears to improve overall health.

To get an idea of how big the problem is, consider these statistics: In the past decade, per capita intake of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased by nearly 30%. For each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child's becoming obese increases by 60%.

Similar taxes on tobacco products have proved successful in reducing consumption. And as the price of carbonated soft drinks goes up, people tend to buy less. There are a lot of variables associated with doing something like this. It's hard to know if people would switch to drinking water, milk, or perhaps just a generic version of their favorite sugary soda. And what would this extra tax revenue go towards? It's likely to get more support if the revenue funds programs that promote physical activity and better nutrition. But at this point, it's unclear exactly how the money would be used.

What do you think? Are you surprised the proposals in Maine and New York have been struck down? Is a tax like this a good idea to help improve the health of our country, or should we find another way?

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In Minnesota, whole foods/some packaged foods are not taxed at all, but to buy junk food you pay the normal state tax of 6.5-8% (which you would pay for other items.) I think it's fair and works well. Taxing above that percentage to punish people for their lifestyles is just dumb. Report
Yes put a huge tax on sodas and all sugary drinks. Like they do cigarettes. Also a warning like cigarettes that this drink is harmful.
Maybe if people had to come up with more money they would not reach for the cheap .99 cent bottle of soda to give their kids.
There has to be some drastic wake up call to people on the effects of what they are feeding kids and themselves. Report
They have had a tax on soda, fruit juice (including the 100% juice) and candy here for a few years now. It hasn't slowed down the consumption of it at all. Those who want to continue to drink soda will just eat less of anything healthy. The continued taxing of everything to the point people cannot pay for any healthy food, medications, heat or water for their homes is getting completely out of hand. Report
I don't think we should be comparing the effects of sugary drinks to the effects of smoking. Until sugary drinks become damaging enough that they have to carry a Surgeon General's warning on the side of each can, the two won't be in the same league. I would consider myself a definite liberal, and I don't have too big of a problem with taxes, but this one is silliness. Fight obesity by talking about the problem, through education and by getting people active, not by taxes. There are more and more communities that are battling the bulge together through fitness and education programs put on by community centers and hospitals and such. That is the way to go. Report
We have too many taxes as it is. Unless you were going to tax each can of soda by about $.50, I don't think that it would do a great deal towards getting people to drink less anyway. Report
First off I think New York and Maine are hypocritical. I think New York needs to be a bit more concerned with Plum Island. As far over all we do not need to be the food police for people. Nor do we need to tax people for pop. Cigarettes shouldn't be taxed either. People know if it's healthy or not. If your going to smoke or drink pop then your going to do it whether it is healthy or not. I personally drink pop or I should say Coke and Diet Rite. And I am not giving up my one coke a day for no one no matter what my health says. Nor should I be asked to. What if we taxed coffee or tea? I think the article is misleading pop isn't the leading cause why Americans are overweight. The leading cause is because we do not get the amount of exercise and diet. Diet means a whole blend of things to label it as just a pop issue is misleading.
I also agree with some others commenting saying no more taxes and no more governmental control we live a free society not a dictator ship and that is what you will have if you dictate to people what they can and can't eat. Besides there would be enough people to veto it in Congress they like their Jack and Coke. Report
And if you wanted to take that one step further -- companies that have gyms or that pay for gym memberships could pay lower premiums or companies that have healthy food areas available for their employees could pay lower premiums. I think that encouraging healthy behavior in all areas of life is the answer to weight problems, not punishing people who may not know any better. Report
If we are not going to tax soda -- which as this article points out -- is a contributing factor in obesity -- then we should try the opposite approach which would be rewarding healthy lifestyle choices. I think the best place to start here would be insurance. People who eat healthy, who exercise regularly and who try to live a healthy lifestyle should be rewarded by paying lower fees where as someone who drinks soda by the liter and smokes and drinks alcohol and who never exercises should have to pay much higher fees. This way, you make the choice and you know the consequences plus it is the private marketplace that is determining this. I would like this because I choose to live healthily and since insurance is a pool system I would be rewarded. Report
absolutely not - it is only another tax grab! they tax cigarettes and liquor - and the higher it goes - the more people buy it. come on - we all know that does not work. education is what works - consumers have to understand what soda and other debilitating substances do to their body, then boycott it. BB Report
You cannot legislate healthy habits. Not just a bad idea. The agencies just to oversee and collect and disperse these 'taxes'... Report
If a tax is levied and the money is used for health/fitness/wellness education, what is going to happen when people reduce how much they buy like the goal is? Now there are programs that need to be funded and kept going...then what...raise the tax??

Look at the funding for state roadways--dependent on the gasoline tax. Look what's happening--less driving and more fuel efficient vehicles. Now government is having trouble keeping roads in good condition because the funding isn't there. So now, more taxes are being levied against workers/property owners to make up the difference as well as discussions on increase the fuel tax.

Taxing bad behavior isn't the way to solve the problem. Plus personal responsibility needs to make a come back. I don't know about anyone else, but the soda is in the same isle as bottled water in my grocery store. All anyone has to do is look across the isle!! Report
Taxing the tobacco industry has impacted the number of smokers out there. I really think this would help. Especially in this economy. People would hopefully want to spend their money on products that are healthy. Maybe take that money you save from buying soda and get a gym membership. What the Government needs to do is take the money and use it to help bring down the prices of produce and other healthy options. I can easily spend $50 on fresh produce each week. That is sad. I think some people are just against it because they are against all the taxes and Government interference, and that's fine, but this could really have a good impact on the people in this country. The US is one of the heaviest countries in the world. Report
I don't think it would stop or even reduce the amount of soda consumption. However, if the money raised is earmarked to go toward health care and education, then it's a good thing. Soda provides no nutritive value, so it should be treated like other 'luxury' (unnecessary) vice-related items like cigarettes and alcohol: Tax it and use the money to pay for repairing (or better yet, somehow preventing) the damage it ultimately causes. Report
No, maybe to a few. Report
Absolutely not! Has taxing cigaretts stopped people from smoking? No. Government should stop trying to bubble wrap society. It is our responsibility to care for ourselves whether it is sugary drinks, alcohol, tobacco, motorcycle riding without helmets, etc. And the list goes on and on. Report
I beleve it will have an affect on some people but the young teens who comsume it will continue. Report
How about if they do tax the soda and sugar beverages they use that money for the stae education on health and fitness! To teach us how to live healthy lives so we don't reach out for those drink as often! We need to teach our families moderation and healthier eating! Thank goodness they have pulled soda machines out of my kids schools and added water bottle machines instead! I still don't think it will stop people from drinking the beverages. But maybe it can be used for the good if they do! Report
Sure, tax it. Why not? Nobody should be drinking that crap in the volumes they do. A can or two a week, fine. More than that, not so fine. I say go for the tax! It's an individual's choice to buy it and pay the tax, or not. Report
The tax proposal may have failed, but check out the poster that NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene has put up on the subways:
OMG! This taxation trend is already getting out of control. I think stuff like this needs to be put to a vote by the American people. I thought this country was a democracy! OH! Wait! that is changing, we have already lost ground...Why don't we all just send the government our pay! they are working out ways to get it all anyway. Why prolong the misery. In any event, I don't like having my freedom of choice compromised, nor do I feel I should be penalized by someone who doesn't tt agree with my choices. Someone else said should start with serious and honest education. Report
I don't think taxation is the answer anymore than charging the obesity tax Education and personal responsibility is good enough. Just another way to fund the insurance companies. Report
Just leave it alone. The choices aren't based on cost or risk, or else drugs, alcholol, and cigarettes would have been deminished a long time ago. Report
I do not think it would help. If you like soda, no matter the cost you will buy it. Report
I live in Illinois, where a tax increase on soda (plus alcohol, candy and personal hygiene products) was just implemented yesterday. The tax rate is now the general merchandise rate of 6.25%. While I'd like to believe that the state was looking out for the health of its citizens, I (and every other Illinois resident) know that it is to help reduce our $31 billion dollar budget deficit.
Honestly, I'd rather see soda, alcohol and candy be taxed than see more cuts and rate hikes in the public transit that I ride every day. Lawmakers are smart - they target the products that they know people cannot/will not live without, and will pay any price for. Now soda joins the ranks of cigarettes and alcohol in this respect. I think even states like New York and Maine, while touting the health of their citizens, are really thinking of their bottom lines when considering taxes/increased taxes on these items. Report
I do not agree with implementing another tax. They need to look at this the other way around- make healthy foods cheaper! A lot of people grocery shop on a budget and look at what is on sale. When junk food is cheaper than healthy food, that is what people are going to choose. Along with a reduction in the price of healthy foods we need more effective education for the public. Report
Okay, now that I'm not sitting on the couch, watching my husband drink a vat of pop, I'll answer this reasonably.
No, I don't think soda should have a sin-tax. It's a slippery slope to allowing Uncle Sam to arbitrarily decide what foods are "sinful" enough to be taxed.

I think the cigarette tax is fine, because cigarettes don't just hurt the smoker. They hurt the people around the smoker, some of whom cannot walk away (dependent children, elderly, etc.). A sin tax on alcohol is okay by me too, because again, the affects of too much alcohol aren't just on the drinker.

I suppose one could argue that the affects of too much pop on my husband have been a contributing factor to his kidney stone surgery, and therefore; they've contributed to the rising cost of health care, and we've all suffered. This would make my husband's soda consumption everyone's problem and you could justify a sin tax that way, but that's a pretty big stretch.

I will say that even diet soda robs your bones of calcium, and when he drinks his sodas, I walk by him hunched over, like I'm holding a cane, and say in a feeble voice, "Enjoyin' yer soda, Sonny?" He gets it. Before you decide I'm a jerk...I've tried the nice, loving approach. Remember...he's had one surgery already. The guy drinks 2 liters a day. He's unstoppable and I don't want to see him in that predicament again! Report
I belive in education and doing things like removing junk foods from schools .... but another tax ..... no Report
I understand the motive behind the tax. I understand the poor choice concept. But I am not one to believe that it's our government's job to make sure that we make good choices. That has to be all on us. I don't believe that any government has the right to direct it's people's choices. It's called over-reaching it's domain. And that is a slippery slope. Report
I do not agree with more taxing! Educate people more on the harmful effects of drinking too much soda. Report
Whether they would help or not, I wish they would make it so expensive that my husband could not afford it. I hate it. HATE! I hate the taste, I hate the affects, I hate everything about it, and my husband drinks it by the bucket-full. He's already had kidney stones removed and he still insists on drinking it! YUCK! Report
No, it's just one more attack on our personal sovereignty. Report
Absolutely not! This is America! If someone wants to go out and get a pop, they should be able to. What's next: you have to step on a scale at the store and depending on how much you weigh, that will determine how much you are taxed?? People need to have accountability. I am an adult and if I want a pop, I should be able to go buy it at a resonable price. It is my choice whether or not I want to ruin my health! If someone wants pop, they are going to buy it regardless of price [look at how expensive cigarettes are!!] Report
A junk food tax sound like a good idea. Report
How about a tax INCENTIVE for HEALTHY foods!

hmmmmm.... Report
I think diet soda is way better than regular. #1) you are not consuming all that sugar and that does contribute to WEIGHT GAIN . #2) If you balance it out with H2O and drink coffee black NO ADDED sweetners and watch what you eat then you have accomplished something healthful. I have lost 60 lbs and kept it off when I stopped the REGULAR COKES. TAXING DIET SODA is wrong. Report
I would be more prone to support such activity if it wasn't so obvious the power Coke has in our economy; something many folks don't look at and the government is not going to encourage since, in additon, govt gets the taxes that are generated to dole out as they see fit; I don't believe I have ever seen (but sure would love to and be assured of the Govt's good intent and effective administration) a paper trail that shows the public, who would be paying these taxes, where the money is going; how much of the taxes are generated and how they are implemented in doing the good they purport to do; not just as another way to "punish" poor choices fundamentally supported by the govt and economy in the first place.
(stepping down off the old soapbox and tucking it under the old armpit) Report
I admit, I am all for it.

1) I am all for taxes you can 'choose' to pay. I choose not to buy soda, which is no good for me anyway, so I would never see this tax.

2) Make the revenue generated go towards health care, and then the tax dollars I have no choice but to pay might go towards something other than supporting someone else's soda habit...and ensuing health problems.

It only makes sense to me. It's a 'poor choice' tax. Poor choices should cost you more. Report
People didn't stop smoking because of the taxes. Smoking became uncool, so kids didn't start, thus no new smokers. If you want people to drink less soda, make it uncool. But don't saddle yet another virtue tax on America. Report
I was outraged when I heard this, I get the idea behind it but honestly what's next?!?!? I don't think it'll deter people from buying soda, it hasn't stopped people from drinking and here recently smoking. People will just pay for it anyway, they will quit becase they want to not because of a 13% or whatever it will be tax!!!! Report
If that's what it takes to make kids choose milk or juice, I'm for it. They tax alcohol & cigarettes, why not pop. It's all empty calories anyways. Report
Ok sorry but after reading this article I still can't stop laughing! What will they charge us for next? Sitting/standing with bad posture?! lol Report
once again another tac to try and make people change behavior. If you want to change you wil, taxes don't make the diference. Report
I know that here in Ontario Canada, we do have taxes on our soda and it doesn't seem to bother any one one way or the other from buying it. I know myself, I used to buy at least 3 bottles of pop a day before going on this program, now I don't think I drink that many in a week. I think it is just something that has to be trained and learned to do. Report
I know that here in Ontario Canada, we do have taxes on our soda and it doesn't seem to bother any one one way or the other from buying it. I know myself, I used to buy at least 3 bottles of pop a day before going on this program, now I don't think I drink that many in a week. I think it is just something that has to be trained and learned to do. Report
When I first read Jen's blog I thought, "No Way! What a stupid tax!" Then I realized that one of the reasons that cigarettes are taxed is to offset the huge monetary impact on public insurance. Medicare and Medicaid are burdened with paying for health issues associated with smoking, including: heart and lung disease. Therefore, the American taxpayer is required to pay for the unhealthy smoking habits of our fellow citizens. Were there no shared financial responsibility for unhealthy habits of our fellow citizens, the cigarette tax would not be justified.

The link between sugary drinks and health problems is clear. How much does the consumption of sugary drinks impact the public healthcare system? The Obama administration is extremely concerned about the vast amount of money from the public treasury that is being funneled into Medicare and Medicaid. A tax on soda pop shifts some of the burden of paying for unhealthy behaviors to those that exhibit those unhealthy behaviors.
Let us just tax stupidity and be done with it. People make bad choices. In the USA, people are suppose to be allowed bad choices without the governement atttacking and punishing. Report
Although it might sound absurd at first, I really think taxing sugary beverages is in the end a good thing. Albeit, the funds should go to something that also aids in improving the overall health and fitness of citizens, taxing products that harm Americans' health should be taxed. We tax cigarettes at a rather outrageous rate in order to deter smokers from their harmful habit, why shouldn't we try the same thing with sugary beverages that make us fat and destroy our bodies. The government is their to protects us and I believe that sometimes that means protecting us from ourselves. I believe that the food industry has turned fatty, sugary foods into the worse kind of drug: the kind that slowly but surely poisons us and shortens our lives. The government needs to start acting as more of a check on the food industry and promote healthier lifestyles before its too late. Report
I actually started laughing when I read this. It seems a bit...absurd. Taxes are put on things all the time, but never make them prohibitively expensive, therefore, people just adapt. A tax on soda would have almost no success, except for annoying people. I agree with people above who said, "Just don't drink us." Ultimately, no one is forcing us to drink soda. It's our choice. Report
Becksdesign, You are right on.

Here in Poland, most everyone smokes and drinks.
They, and their families, go without to support their habits.

I went to have breakfast out the other morning.
Not only was it hard to find a place that servers what American me thinks of as breakfast, but most everyone was having Polish Breakfast, BEER.

The point being, there is a "luxury" tax on things like beer, and coffee, etc. It does not stop anyone.

People do not like to be told what to do, i.e. "cut your nose off to spite your face" is common behaviour..

It has to be a FREE choice. Report
Quit this TAX for our own good.
You may not drink soda,or smoke; I don't, but it is MY choice.
Education is the solution.
Not TAXation.
We should stay FREE to chose.
True our bad choices can cost the taxpayer in medical care, down the road.
If they, soda drinkers, paid taxes. They are intitled.
Stop caring for thoes who never paid taxes. Report
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