Proposed Sugar Tax Aimed at Slimming Down America

Tax on sugary drinks may ease obesity epidemic eventually, but you can start slimming now.

April 10, 2009

Drink fast: A tax on sodas and sugary drinks could be in the works.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The country has slurped its way into a very unsweet situation. Soda spiked with high-fructose corn syrup, high-calorie sports drinks, and sugar-shocked juices could be the biggest drivers behind the obesity epidemic. And as states like New York and Maine consider slapping high taxes on these belt-busting beverages to mitigate a public health crisis, many health officials and obesity experts agree it’s a good idea. “A penny per ounce tax could reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10 percent. It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task,” wrote Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, and Thomas Frieden, MD, health commissioner for the City of New York. Their editorial was just published in The New England Journal of Medicine.


More news about sugar and soda:
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A Soda Tax Will Work, New Study Says
Diet Soda = Diabetes Soda
Report Provides New Sugar Recommendations For Adults

THE DETAILS: Other experts agree that making sugary drinks pricier will lead to people consuming fewer of them, reducing the prevalence of obesity. It’s a “sin tax” approach that’s helped decrease cigarette use, says Barry Popkin, PhD, author of The World is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race (Penguin, 2009). “As an economist who works on this topic, a tax on sugar in beverages is the closest thing in the food and drink and obesity world to a cigarette tax,” he says. “A tax on sugar added to beverages is the best way to reduce calories, diabetes, and weight gain in the United States.” The tax could help ease childhood obesity: Research shows that for each additional can of sugared beverages consumed in a day, a child’s risk of becoming obese increases by 60 percent. Cutting obesity levels would also affect the economy. Obesity and all the related illnesses that come along with it cost the U.S. an estimated $80 billion annually, and half of that bill is footed by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid programs.

WHAT IT MEANS: Whether or not a sugar tax is a good idea, paying more attention to the calories we drink sure is. Back in the 1970s, Americans took in about 70 calories a day in beverages; by the year 2000, people were drinking 190 calories a day. And usually, we don’t even notice we’re doing it. “When we consume sugar in a beverage, we do not reduce our food intake, so it adds calories to our diet,” Popkin explains. Don’t wait for the government to try and tax you into slimness, though. Take steps now to keep liquid calories out of your meal plan.

Tax or no tax, here’s how to shrink your waist by changing your drinking habits:

• Eat it, don’t drink it. Get your healthy sugar from fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, not beverages that come with extra calories and contain few nutrients. Instead of apple juice, for example, you’re better off eating the apple. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that people eating 2,000 calories a day shouldn’t eat more than 10 teaspoons of refined sugar daily—that’s 40 grams, about the amount in a single can of soda. But many nutritionists say it’s better if that number’s even lower.

• Know what to cut out. According to the Beverage Guidance Panel, which ranks beverages from Level 1 (drink as often as possible) to Level 6 (avoid), water should be your main beverage; sodas and sweetened beverages (iced tea and juices) are among the worst choices. See a more complete list in Monday’s story about beverages and weight loss.

• Don’t be fooled by “natural” sugar. In response to the backlash against high-fructose corn syrup, some companies are offering “natural” soda sweetened with real sugar. Either way, it’s still sugar, so try to keep it out of your cup.

• Know the code words. Look on labels to see if these sweetened words appear on the ingredients list, and limit your consumption of drinks sweetened with them: glucose, sucrose, lactose, honey, maltose, dextrose, fructose, molasses, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, corn sweetener, juice concentrate, natural sweeteners, refined sugar, turbinado sugar, confectioner’s (powdered) sugar.