The Ballot Battle Against Obesity

Will Americans embrace the sugar tax that could usher in a healthier future?

Voters in three California cities and one in Colorado approved raising taxes as much as 1 or 2 cents per ounce on soda. This comes on the heels of the announcement from the World Health Organization this fall encouraging countries to enact a sugary drinks tax, or “soda tax.”

The WHO pointed to the Mexican government in its report. Two years ago, the Mexican Congress passed legislation to increase taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and recent analysis shows that it has worked. Pricing policies have driven down the consumption of sugary drinks by as much as 12 percent in a single year.

Studies have shown that people who regularly consume sugary drinks gain more weight over time — an extra pound every four years.

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An average-sized sugary drink contains between 15 and 18 teaspoons of sugar; public health experts at Harvard University estimate that Americans consume 9 percent of their daily calories through sweetened drinks. Studies have long shown that people who regularly consume sugary drinks gain more weight over time — an extra pound every four years. The health consequences are especially dire for children who drink sweetened beverages.

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Voters are divided on the issue — but not necessarily along partisan lines. A Vox poll shows that 24 percent of Democrats support a soda tax, as do 19 percent of Republicans. Skeptics of the laws usually want the government to keep its regulations away from the health arena, especially when it comes to dictating what people should or should not buy.

Yet a soda tax falls short of outright tyranny — it’s more of an incentive program that helps people make other choices about what they consume.

A tax on soda and other sweetened drinks is not a cure-all, but it could be a piece of an important puzzle in the obesity surge. Unhealthy weight gain stems from multiple sources of calorie-dense foods, not just drinks.

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Nevertheless, sugary drinks do make up a significant portion of excess calorie intake for many individuals.

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People struggling with obesity should “reduce consumption of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] as part of a more general effort to reduce total daily calorie intake and increase physical activity to help control weight,” said Dr. Amanda Staiano, spokesperson for The Obesity Society and assistant professor of pediatric health at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

She also told LifeZette: “The Obesity Society supports national efforts to increase the consumption of water, a readily accessible, calorie-free and healthy alternative to SSBs that also contains fluoride needed for oral health.”

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