Fat from fizz: It's time to consider a tax on sugary drinks

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If government can slap taxes on tobacco products to generate not only revenue but also health benefits, why not apply the same principle to sugary soft drinks? Obviously, the beverage industry has plenty of reasons to oppose the idea, but strong advocates in the medical community make it worth considering.

A team of prominent doctors, scientists and policy-makers who researched the subject are convinced that a tax on any soft drink with any added caloric sweetener that helps drive the obesity epidemic could cut consumption. In a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the group proposed an excise tax of 1 percent per ounce for sugary beverages.

They said studies have shown that taxes can lower consumption of soda and other sweet drinks -- sugar-free diet drinks are not included -- enough to lead to a small weight loss and reduced health risks among many Americans. The American Heart Association, which has urged the public to cut back dramatically on sugar, has singled out soft drinks as the top source of "discretionary" sugar calories.

Kelly Brownell, lead author of the report and also the head of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, notes that while 33 states have sales taxes on soft drinks, "the taxes are too small to affect consumption and the revenues are not earmarked for programs related to health."

Since it would be difficult to get a potent drink tax through Congress, states may have to take the first step just as they did in heavily taxing tobacco in an effort to reduce smoking and defray the costs of smoking-related illnesses.

Potential health benefits should be motivation enough to weigh in on taxing soft drinks to fight obesity.


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