Archive for September, 2011

Mayor Nutter’s NOT Nuts!

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recently proposed a tax on sweetened beverages such as soda, bottled iced teas and energy drinks. While this move is obviously revenue driven, it has a much more responsible and health conscious goal for one ofAmerica’s fattest cities: reducing the ever escalating obesity problem and with it reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay in children. 

As a child, I remember that soda drinking was limited in our house. It was considered a treat. However in recent years, soda has become the beverage of choice in American households and the worldwide consumption of it and other sugary drinks has doubled.   We and our children are drinking more of the stuff and adding a pretty large dose of nutritionally empty calories to our daily intake.

A single 12 ounce soda is about 160 calories and I’m sure we’ve all seen kids throw back a couple of cans of it a day. (In lieu of drinking water!). A study involving middle-school students over the course of 2 school years showed that the risk of becoming obese increased by 60% for every extra serving of sugar-sweetened drinks per day. YIKES!  And check this out: there is even evidence to suggest that  children who are chronic consumers of these beverages find that less sweet foods are unappealing. Our kids essentially lose the taste for vegetables and fruits every time they take a swig of soda!! According to the Center for Disease control, children who have such poor dietary habits and are obese at ages 10 to 15, will remain obese when they are 25. Lessening childhood obesity means less overweight adults and improving the health of Americans overall.

 I could go on and on citing studies which bear out the negative effects of increased sweetened beverage consumption, so the question is, “Why do we continue to ingest the stuff ? Soda is cheap and widely available. Some folks would say it just tastes good! That might be true, but there are a number of other reasons it is appealing to us: Advertisers do a great job of making it look cool and socially acceptable to drink their products, so we tend to think more about the immediate “aahhh” of the product than the long term “oohhh” of it’s negative health effects. Lack of accurate information contributes as well; most folks don’t associate increased sugar intake to obesity and disease, and the labels don’t tell you that this stuff is hazardous to your health.  It really is the obligation of government and health officials to inform and educate the public about this health threat, waging a war against it in the same way we did against cigarette smoking. Jane Q. Public is responsible for utilizing that information to live a healthier lifestyle.

I know nothing of his political views, but regarding this soda tax, Mayor Nutter’s NOT nuts! The opposition will tell us that overall these tax hikes won’t lead to any meaningful change in most peoples behavior or lifestyle, but there is evidence to dispute that. Folks drive less when the price of gas increases and smoke less when the price of cigarettes go up.  I agree with nutritionists that while there is no magic bullet to solve the problem of obesity, there has to be a first step. Nutters’ proposal would be taking a crucial first step toward reducingPhiladelphia’s liquid caloric intake. And it would likely start a tidal wave of “sweet drink” tax increases in other major cities. If the tax leads to less consumption, it would ultimately lower  health care costs and the increased revenue could support more healthy initiatives like childhood nutrition programs and obesity-prevention programs.  And really, what’s nuts about that?

Vikki Goyins

 

Reference: The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
N Engl J Med 2009; 361:1599-1605October 15, 2009

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