Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Harvard, USDA: Soda Tax Will Cut Obesity

A soda tax can help fight the obesity that these useless drinks causes.  Then again, nobody forced us to drink it.

Harvard, USDA: Soda Tax Will Cut Obesity

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 04:37 AM PDT

It may take a year or two or five or twenty, but eventually some sort of levy will be placed on the liquid candy purveyed by the  beverage industry. In the past few weeks, two additional voices were heard in the argument for consumer (and legislator) mindshare on this issue.

A Harvard experiment, in a hospital cafeteria, tried various intervention models to get people to drink less sugary drinks. Posters with warnings had no effect, but raising prices by 35% caused a 26% decrease in sales.

And yesterday, the USDA's Economic Research Service published a report [download PDF], with a bottom line conclusion that

a 20% increase in prices could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, equivalent to 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year for adults, and an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children. Given these reductions in calorie consumption, results show an estimated decline in adult overweight prevalence (66.9 to 62.4 percent) and obesity prevalence (33.4 to 30.4 percent), as well as the child at-risk-for-overweight prevalence (32.3 to 27.0 percent) and the overweight prevalence (16.6 to 13.7 percent).

What you need to know:

The beverage industry has argued that a soda tax is too simplistic and ineffective. It has spent millions on TV commercials, lobbying efforts, and other PR activities to stop this tax which would mean hundred of millions of dollars of revenues evaporating overnight should a federal law be enacted.

They've played the "poor" card, citing that this tax will be most harmful to the lower socio-economic brackets, thus trying to gain sway as "for the people". This is a dirty little trick, because it is a disproportionate percentage of poor people who suffer the most from obesity and other food related illnesses. And guess what, they drink the most soda pop too.

We wonder if the American Dietetic Association will weigh in on this matter, although it's highly doubtful it can voice a strong opinion against an industry whose top players (Coca Cola Co., PepsiCo) are its corporate sponsors. After all, it's not polite to bite the hand that feeds.

Going back to the Harvard study, it's interesting to note that the "education" intervention had no effect on buyer choice. Perhaps this explains why Coca Cola spends millions in education programs, for example the American Academy of Family Physicians. The group received $600,000 last year "to educate consumers about the role of their products in a healthy lifestyle."

While the soda tax may have some merit, we've suggested a more creative approach, which you can read about here.

What to do at the supermarket:

Taxes or not, the average US family of four spends over $500 a year on sugary soft drinks. Imagine if you could free yourself of that expenditure by switching to tap water. In most parts of the country, tap water is safer to drink and more heavily regulated than bottled water. By making this one switch, a family can lose weight, reduce plastic pollution, and save money to buy more fresh produce.

IS your family up to the challenge, or is it too taxing?

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