Health

Sep 16, 2009 6:57 PM by Tracie Potts

Taxing your sweet tooth to pay for health care

With Washington trying to figure out how to pay for health reform, an old idea is resurfacing.

Tax the foods that make us unhealthy, like sugary sodas and juices, to help pay for the problems they might contribute to, like obesity.

But will a "sugar tax" work?

The New England Journal of Medicine has published a report suggesting that adding just a few cents to the cost of sodas and juices could raise billions of dollars.

A group of doctors, nutritionists, and economists says a penny an ounce tax on sugary drinks could raise almost $15 billion a year for health programs.

"It's only fair that people consuming these beverages help share the cost of the diseases that they're putting upon themselves," argues study author Dr. Walter Willett.

But are these sugar-sweetened beverages really to blame for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity?

Some studies say yes. Others say no.

An author of the popular "You" health guides says we need an answer.

"There have not been the randomized studies to show -- and that have shown definitely, that cutting these out makes a huge difference," says Dr. Michael Roizen.

Take Arkansas and West Virginia, for example. The beverage industry says they have sugar taxes.

And also some of the highest obesity rates in the country.

"The sale of regular soft drinks has been going down over the last 10 years 9 percent. At the same time, the obesity rate has been rising. So I don't see the corollary," says Susan Neely of the American Beverage Association.

Experts pushing the sugar tax believe it'll cut consumption by 8 percent, just like cigarette taxes led to fewer smokers.

It would be levied on manufacturers, not directly on consumers.

An incentive, they say, for producers to cut the sugar.

"If they cut out 10, 20, 30, 40 percent of the sugar in those beverages, that would be wonderful. We would love that. That would be a victory," says University of North Carolina economist Barry Popkin.

The beverage industry insists there are already plenty of choices.

 

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