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Higher Tax On Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Could Prevent Obesity And Diabetes Cases, Study Says

Tax Sugary Drinks

First Posted: 01/12/2012 6:39 am Updated: 01/12/2012 8:41 am

A nationwide tax could do wonders for your waistline and wallet.

Increasing the tax on sugary drinks by just a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could cut consumption and disease, according to a study conducted by Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues, eventually helping to prevent heart attacks, strokes, cases of diabetes and premature deaths.

According to the study, Americans consumed 13.8 billion gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages in 2009, or approximately 45 gallons of soda, fruit punch, sweetened tea, sports drinks, and all other beverages with added caloric sweeteners per person.

The study found that less consumption of sugary drinks could lower the number of new cases of diabetes by 2.6 percent and prevent as many as 95,000 coronary heart events, 8,000 strokes and 26,000 premature deaths. An added benefit -- the country would avoid an estimated $17 billion in medical costs over 10 years.

A penny-per-ounce tax could greatly benefit the public health of minorities.

Back in October, a study conducted by Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that children, particularly blacks and Latinos, were being targeted by beverage industry sales campaigns for sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks.

"Many things are being done to help prevent obesity in children and teens. One of the most visible is the effort by cities, states, and even entire countries to wage war on beverages with added sugar," said Kelly Brownell, an internationally-known obesity expert and Yale psychologist, to The Atlantic.

According to Brownell, there is a long list of reasons why sugary drinks are bad for you:

  • They are the single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet, with little or no nutritional value.
  • The body does not seem to recognize calories very well when they are delivered in liquids, hence sugary drinks appear to fool the body's feelings of being full.
  • Lastly, there is very clear evidence linking consumption of these beverages with elevated risk for obesity and diabetes. The massive amounts of marketing does not help matters.

Last year, Hispanic children saw 49 percent more ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks. Hispanic preschoolers seeing more ads for Coca-Cola Classic, Kool-Aid, 7 Up and Sunny Delight than their older counterparts. The study also reported that black children and teens saw 80 to 90 percent more ads when compared to whites, including more than twice as many ads for Sprite, Mountain Dew, 5-hour Energy, and Vitamin Water.

Critics of the proposed tax law argue that even if sugar-sweetened beverages cost more doesn't necessarily mean people won't buy it.

According to Reason Foundation research, "five [of] the most obese states -- Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Oklahoma -- all have soda taxes, while three of the least obese, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Colorado, have no soda taxes."

However, some strides have been made.

In 2010, in support of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign to end childhood obesity in a generation, beverage companies agreed to make the calories in their products clearer and more consumer-friendly by putting calorie information on the front of every bottle, can and pack they produce. This initiative was part of a broader effort to help reduce childhood obesity.

Until the penny-per-ounce tax is passed, the hope is that the placement of calorie information on the front of every bottle could help people make more informed choices about the beverages they drink.

While advocates hope that the consumption of sugary drinks will be drastically reduced, the results of such measures have yet to be determined.

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Filed by Cindy Y. Rodriguez  |