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One take on the soda tax

Mar. 15, 2010

by intern Valerie Scott

I wish I was virtuous enough to stick to just water and wine, but I’m not – like most of America, I like soda. So why do I support the controversial proposal in New York to impose a tax on soda? Because taxes like this one are proven to reduce weight and lower risk of diabetes. And I think that’s worth a few extra pennies of punishment for a guilty pleasure.

All week, I’ve been hearing commercials from the Alliance for a Healthier New York in favor of the proposed NY “soda tax.” New York state health officials are aiming to levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary soda. New York Governor David Paterson proposed the soda tax in January and last week Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged state legislators to impose the tax.

I was still on the fence until a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill convinced me that a soda tax is worthwhile. The study followed more than 5,000 participants for 20 years, tracking the average price of fast food and soda in the counties in which the participants lived. The diet, weight and insulin levels of the participants were also analyzed. The results show that weight and risk of diabetes decreased for people in communities where soda and fast food prices increased.

The senior author of the study, Barry Popkin, Ph.D, states, “Our results provide robust evidence to support the potential health benefits of taxing selected foods and beverages as a way of improving public health.”

Of course, at the end of the day, a tax is about raising revenue and the New York soda tax will do that. The tax could raise up to $1 billion annually to fund health care programs across the state. State Health Commissioner Richard Daines told the NY Daily News, “It’s a triple play. We would reduce obesity, earn revenue to support health care and, in the long run, cut health care costs.”

President Obama has said that soda taxes are "an idea worth exploring," but since the failure of Governor Paterson’s first attempt to tax soda in 2009 and ongoing health care reform woes, the administration has not proposed a similar tax on the national level. A success story in New York would be one step towards changing that.

Bottom line – I think the soda tax could be an important way to reduce obesity and diabetes and fund health care programs overburdened with the high costs of chronic disease.

If you live in New York and want to contact your legislators about the soda tax, click here!
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