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Soda Tax Found Effective in Fighting Obesity

America's weight problem puts a crushing economic burden on our healthcare system, our businesses, and our personal pocket books. In recent years, health care costs for the obese grew almost three-times as fast as those for the normal-weight population. A recent study in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that compared to normal-weight individuals, a morbidly obese employee costs an employer over $4,000 more per year in health care and related costs. This translates into higher health premiums, higher priced goods and services, higher unemployment–all of which can hit low income families hardest of all.

Some policymakers have argued that expensive fruit and vegetables are to blame. But in experimental simulations of grocery shopping, lowering produce prices prompted shoppers to buy more junk food! By contrast, behavioral scientists at the University of Buffalo found that higher prices on unhealthy foods (i.e., the kind that would result from junk food taxes) could shift spending to fruit and vegetables. More recently a group of researchers at Australian's Monash University and Britain's Imperial College London and University of York have looked at how raising prices on sugar-sweetened beverages might influence consumption trends — and impact obesity.

The study compared the effects of taxing soda at 20% flat rate sales tax (valoric) or at an extra twenty cents per liter volumetric tax and found that the latter could yield weight loss of roughly 7.5 pounds for those with low and middle incomes and high soda intake. Moreover, lead author, Dr. Anurag Sharma argues that such taxes could "generate tax revenue that can be used for public health care."

Such soda taxes would likely most benefit those "consumers" who don't make their own purchasing decisions — children, whose health has suffered from rising soda consumption. Caffeinated sodas are contributing to kids' sleep problems and rising blood pressure rates. Better beverage options include 100% fruit juice, which is linked to lower body mass indices and higher nutrient intakes.

Published August 1, 2014

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