There is a controversial debate in Washington right now over imposing a soda and sugary beverage tax to fight obesity. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has argued in favor of a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared drinks to both decrease consumption and raise sorely needed funds for health care. Proponents of the tax argue that sugary drinks are often cited as evil-doers in America’s obesity epidemic. While those against the tax argue that soda taxes limit freedom of choice — and that soda taxes are regressive, hurting poor people more than they hurt the rich.
I understand the need to raise money for health care and I agree that sugary sodas contribute to obesity, but why is the cost being put on the taxpayer? And what guarantees it would work? If a person doesn’t want to pay the increase, they could just buy a diet soda instead as diet sodas aren’t included in the tax proposal. Diet soda has also been shown to lead to the obesity epidemic. A new Northwestern University study, which concluded that obese people tend to drink diet soda way more than regular soda, indicates that taxing regular sodas and other sweetened drinks would be an ineffective way to combat obesity. Taxing soda, regular or diet, would raise money, but it wouldn’t help in the fight against obesity.
If the government was serious about fighting America’s obesity epidemic and wanted to do so without punishing taxpayers, they would reduce or put an end to the subsidies they give to the farming industry that cause the price of high fructose corn syrup and traditional sugar found in soda to be so low. This would also be of greater benefit in the fight against obesity since high fructose corn syrup is found in many food products, not just soda. They could redirect that money towards educating people on making healthier food choices, towards making public parks and walkable neighborhoods in our communities and towards improving physical education programs in schools.
If the government were to do this, we would end up with soda being sold at fair market prices, junk food being sold at fair market prices, healthy food being sold at artificially lowered prices, greater access to healthy lifestyle choices, more livable neighborhoods, healthier children, and reduced national obesity all at zero cost to the taxpayer.