One in three adult Americans are obese, which is equivalent to over 72 Million people. Obesity among children is also very high, as its prevalence is 14% for ages 2-5 years, 19% for ages 6-11 years, and 17% for ages 12-19 years. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) labels this problem as an “obesity epidemic.”
One of the main factors contributing to obesity, especially among children, is the high consumption of soda and sugary drinks. Americans drank twice as much of these beverages in 2002 than they did in 1977, and that trend is only increasing.
Studies show that adults that drink one or more soda per day are 27% more likely to be overweight or obese than those than don’t drink any. Research among school-aged children shows that an average child consumes around 1,000 calories per day just from soda or other sugary drinks. Other research shows strong associations between consumption of soft drinks, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. The only studies that do not support these findings are those that have been funded by the beverage industry.
A new article published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine calls for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in order to reduce consumption and provide a new source of revenue to be used for public-health programs to reduce obesity. While 33 states currently have sales taxes on soft drinks, the taxes are too small to affect consumption. The authors argue that a national tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages would raise $14.9 billion in the first year alone, in additional to substantial revenue at the states’ level.
Given that such a tax might reduce sales, the beverage industry is fiercely combating it. Their argument is that imposing a tax on soft drinks would mean that we are treating soda drinking like cigarette smoking. And while there is strong evidence that cigarette smoking is addictive, the science is still inconclusive as to whether soft drinks are. The beverage industry also argues that a tax on soft drinks would not reduce obesity, and that people should take better control of their health instead.
Debate over the soda tax is expected to become more heated over the next few months. And as government officials struggle to find new sources of revenues to finance programs and support the healthcare overhaul, don’t be surprised if they push for the soda tax under the pretext of reducing obesity.