Researchers recommend tax on soda

Like cigarettes and alcohol, soda and other caloric beverages should be taxed for their unhealthy effects on consumers, according to a report issued Wednesday.

Authored by seven of the nation’s leading health and economic experts, including Kelly Brownell, head of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the report calls for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Advocates suggest the tax would reduce the use of soft drinks, which are associated with poor health, as well as generate revenue to be earmarked for health initiatives.

The proposed tax, detailed in Wednesday’s online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, would be levied on any beverage, including soda, containing caloric sweetener which has been shown to increase the risk for diabetes, weight-gain and heart disease. Supporters of the tax believe it would reduce the current 9.1 percent of U.S. health-care expenditures used on obesity-related cases while generating approximately $1.5 billion annually to be used toward nutrition initiatives.

Brownell said the tax would make the unhealthy drinks less desirable with the price increase.

“Problems like obesity and diabetes are spiraling out of control,” he said. “The economics of food is the reverse of what it should be — healthy foods cost too much and unhealthy foods too little. [So] eating well is an especially big challenge to the poor.”

The tax is expected to discourage the consumption of sweetened beverages, subsequently decreasing sales and forcing soft drink companies to refocus their efforts on creating and promoting healthier beverages. Brownell said he anticipates the soda tax will be controversial at first but will ultimately prove effective — much like the taxes on tobacco.

“The [cigarette] tax was considered radical too when first proposed,” Brownell stated. “Now [it’s] routine and has been shown to be the single most effective thing to reduce cigarette smoking.”

The report’s suggested tax has garnered mostly positive reactions on campus. Of the 30 students interviewed, 25 support the proposed measures against soft drinks.

“I completely agree with the tax,” Isabel Chen ’10 said. “The problem is that soda is so cheap.”

Some students, however, feel that legislative measures against soda are too drastic and could justify taxing other caloric, but tasty, foods. Sarah Scott ’13 said implementing this initial tax may lead to further taxation on unhealthy products, like candy and fast food.

While Brownell said that fatty foods are a public health concern, he stressed that the scientific evidence is most clear about the harmful effects of sugary beverages.

“The body doesn’t do well at interpreting liquid calories,” he said. “It just doesn’t adjust its hunger like it does after solid foods.”

Executive Manager of Yale Dining Rahi Taherian said Yale would continue to purchase sodas and other sweetened beverages even if they became more expensive.

“Raising the price [of soda] by one or two cents per ounce would have almost no impact,” he said. “These beverages are one of the least expensive food categories we have.”

Taherian added, however, that the dining halls are making a conscious effort to offer healthier drink options. Since the introduction of spa water and certain unsweetened teas, the amount of soda dispensed from the fountain machines has decreased considerably.

“We don’t want to force students to stop drinking the [sugary] beverages, “ Taherian said. “We want them to make the choice themselves.”

Comments

  • anonymous

    Is there any good evidence that the taxes are effective in reducing obesity?

  • Anonymouse

    “The body doesn’t do well at interpreting liquid calories,” he said. “It just doesn’t adjust its hunger like it does after solid foods.”

    If this is the “science” behind the tax, then shouldn’t the tax also be extended to fruit juices, which also feature large quantities of sugar and are “liquid calories”?

    If the “economics” behind this is to recalibrate the price to nutrition ratio of food, then shouldn’t they focus on either (1) making healthy food more affordable for the poor (have you seen the prices at local farmer’s markets), or (2) removing farm subsidies that encourage stuffing commodities foods (corn and soy) into every processed food on the grocery shelf.

    My problem with the tax is that these punitive measures suggest to the public that somehow these foods are “bad.” In moderation, an occasional carbonated beverage is harmless. Secondly, if the tax isn’t accompanied by a decrease in the costs of healthy alternatives, then it effectively becomes a tax on poor people.