You are hereSippin' Sin: Soda, Taxes and A Healthy America
Sippin' Sin: Soda, Taxes and A Healthy America
First Lady Michelle Obama recently began a campaign to reduce the problem of childhood obesity. One of the first items on her agenda is getting soda and other sugary drinks removed from our nation’s schools.
Soda consumption has been linked to the rise in obesity in the United States, and it’s no wonder as Americans get up to 10% of their calories from the high-fructose corn syrup and other sugars found in these drinks.
American children are particularly heavy consumers of soda; much of this soda consumption happens at school where kids often have access to soda vending machines. For these reasons, the First Lady’s effort to target soda accessibility in schools is a sensible and laudable early step in her anti-obesity efforts.
Many public health advocates argue that we need to go even further in addressing the easy accessibility of soda which can be linked to its high consumption patterns. One suggestion has been to impose taxes on soda to make it a less cost-effective option. Public health advocates contend that a soda tax would have the same positive effects of reducing soda consumption that higher taxes on tobacco had on reducing smoking.
Soda manufacturers are crying foul to the proposed suggestion that soda be taxed, arguing that such a tax would not be effective in reducing soda consumption nor would it be effective in reducing obesity levels in the United States. Critics argue that soda manufacturers and their lobbyists are using the same strategies used by Big Tobacco, denying that they are targeting children and denying the negative health effects of their products.
For my part, I think the tax on soda is worth a shot if it has the potential of lowering the dangerous levels of obesity in our country, both among children and adults. But, while we’re at it, I think as a nation, we need to focus on many of the other unhealthy “pseudo-foods” being created by our food industry.
Due to budget restrictions, low-income people often find that they are forced to buy inexpensive, heavily processed “filler-foods” that offer the most energy per dollar. Organic, fresh products are often more expensive. Due to the relatively low caloric content of fresh fruits and vegetables and their relative high cost, the costs of satiating hunger and feeding a family healthfully increases greatly.
If we stop to assess the costs of our unhealthy habits, the least expensive option at the register becomes the most expensive option over the long-term when we factor in the massive health expenditures that result from our poor diets. Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as “making better choices” when lower-income families do not have true choice.
Reversing this trend and making it cost-effective for consumers to buy foods that contribute to good health may reverse a long standing trend towards growing waist lines and poor health.
Getting this result may involve assessing taxes on processed foods that are high in sugar and preservatives. We might create public health education programs and public service campaigns that teach our children, and ourselves, about healthy nutrition.
Going further, the federal government should look at the way we subsidize soybeans and corn (key ingredients in processed foods). The subsidies given to corn and soybean farmers facilitate the lower purchase price of processed foods. The majority of these farms are owned and/or controlled by large processed foods corporations.
Instead, we might start subsidizing farmers who are using sustainable, and in my view, more moral farming methods. Such subsidies may have the effect of allowing healthier foods to be sold for a lower price at the supermarket.
The government subsidies of “Big Food” corporations should stop. We need real freedom -- the freedom of choice, the freedom of health, and yes, even the freedom to choose those unhealthy options.. But let's make it a real choice!
Let's stop letting corporations and private interests dictate the public good.