We all know too much sugar is harmful to us! Yet how many of us make conscious choices to reduce our intake of refined sweeteners? Did I see all hands raised? Good for you!
The food sector that uses the most sugar is the beverage industry. In spite of the plethora of non-caloric sweeteners available today, consumption of sugar continues to rise alarmingly. A very large portion of that is used in beverages. Intake of sugar sweetened beverages is increasing globally as well as in the US. Caloric beverage intake doubled in the US in all age groups between 1977 and 2002. The most recent data (2005-2006) for children and adults in the US show they consume about 175 kcal per day from these beverages. Remember, if you aren’t drinking that much, someone is making up the difference for you!
These excess calories translate into overweight and obesity. The medical costs for overweight and obesity alone are estimated to amount to 9.1% of the total US health care expenditures, or a whopping $147 billion per year. Half of these costs are publicly paid by Medicare and Medicaid. There is a positive association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the risk of Type II diabetes. Even heart disease risk is elevated in those who consume one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day.
There are compelling reasons to consider taxing the consumption of sugar-sweeetened beverages to provide a disincentive to their purchase and consumption. This kind of tax has the potential to generate substantial revenue to prevent obesity and address other related health issues. A national tax on these drinks would generate $14.9 billion in the first year alone. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity offers an interesting revenue calculator for beverage taxes by state and larger cities.
Objections to this kind of tax are inevitable. The tobacco industry fought taxing tobacco for years, yet today we all benefit from the reduction in smoking. Already the beverage industry has created Americans Against Food Taxes which suggests that this industry fears a tax would have substantial negative impact on consumption!
Do you think governments should tax sugar-sweetened beverages and use the proceeds to fund public health initiatives? Let us hear your opinion.