Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why a Tax On Soda Won't Save Us

Lately there’s been some talk of placing a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened soda. Academics at Columbia University estimate that such a tax would reduce the incidence of diabetes, heart disease and stroke in America.
Will a “soda tax” solve America’s health problems? I’m going to get straight to the point here: I don’t think so.
Our nation’s weight-related health crises are serious. But the solution lies in a much deeper approach, and the foundation should be based in education on overall nutrition, physical activity and moderation. Any food (or beverage) is okay to consume in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle.
At the risk of sounding childish, it also just plain isn’t fair. As a health conscious consumer, I can’t help but feel penalized by the idea of this. I occasionally drink sugar-sweetened beverages and don’t think that I should be taxed because of this choice! Furthermore, there are some people who cannot consume artificial sweeteners, and they shouldn’t be further limited in their choices either. 
It’s a completely different issue than taxation of cigarettes for example, because sugar in beverages is not the primary cause of obesity at all. In fact, a study published in the September 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that, although the amount of sugar we eat does exceed recommended limits, the consumption of added sugars decreased significantly from 1999 to 2008. It should also be noted that the decline in consumption of added sugars is mostly because of a decline in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages! Two-thirds of the decrease to be exact. And by the way, for the first time in decades, obesity rates are holding steady. Demonizing sugar in beverages as the cause of poor health clearly isn’t the answer.
To prevent obesity and other health conditions, we need to pay more attention to our overall lifestyle. My advice as a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator is to stick with a plan you can live with for the long-term: eat a balanced, portion-controlled diet, eat mostly meals that have been prepared at home, be physically active and enjoy sweet treats in moderation.
If we single out sugar, we’re totally missing the point. There are many sources of exorbitant amounts of calories in Americans’ diets that we should call attention to. Take this for example: ordering a double cheeseburger, large fries and a diet soda.  Over a thousand calories and 70 grams of fat, but no sugar in the soda. See what I’m getting at?

What do you think about a tax on soda? Don't worry; differing opinions welcome!

Photo credit: Cola Splash by Paul