Soda Tax.

Firstly, a huge thanks to those following my blog — I appreciate it! I get extremely giddy over new followers, so thank you! And keep the comments coming, I love the questions and commentary. 🙂

And on to soda tax. VERY interesting idea. I think I may like it.

Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, argues that in order to produce a real change, there needs to be a shift in the economic balance between healthful and unhealthful foods and to curtail the all-pervasive marketing of junk food. This would include a tax on soda, he states. Brownell is a go-to guy on topics surrounding the obesity debate and the media [1].

Brownell is also co-author of the book entitled, “Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America’s Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About It” (Note to self: order this on

amazon.com ASAP!). His suggestion of taxing sugar and high-fructose corn syrup beverages surfaced in April when it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. While this idea isn’t a new one to Brownell, he claims it’s now feasible due to the economic recession in America [1].

The details? Brownell proposes an 18% tax on soda. He states that with such a tax, fewer Americans will consume soda, and weight loss nationwide can be expected. Starting at the state-level, Brownell forecasts involvement on a federal level, much the same way as tobacco taxes [1].

The tax money can then be used to fund obesity-prevention programs and subsidize the farming of healthful fruits and vegetables, just as the government currently subsidizes corn that’s processed into high-fructose corn syrup [1].

Does anyone care about the obesity epidemic enough to DO anything about it? Appears so. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) held a three-day “Weight of the Nation” conference in DC last month. The conference brought together academics, scientists, physicians, and public health officials from all over the world to discuss the current obesity epidemic in America. Specifically, research presented at the conference estimated the 2008 cost of treating obesity-related ailments in the US at $147 billion [1].

Brownell is quoted in saying [1]:
“Until healthful foods routinely cost less than unhealthful ones, getting people — especially low-income people — to eat them will remain a challenge.” — I agree.

“…Unless limits are placed on the marketing of unhealthful foods, the whole anti-obesity effort hardly stand a chance.” — Probably so.

“The public-health approach to fighting obesity must shift from treatment of those who are already fat to preventing others — especially kids — from getting that way.” — Interesting. Worth a shot, anyways.

The columnist, LaRue Huget, counters with the argument that diet and weight should be a matter of personal responsibility, not government concern [1]. While I wish I could agree, I don’t. Just because something ought to be, certainly doesn’t mean it’s a reality. And certainly this is true for leading a healthful lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight. If obesity weren’t an epidemic, I could possibly wish on a lucky star that Medicare would be in existence in 45 years’ time. Ha! Brownell goes on to say, “When people move to the U.S., they gain weight. Have they become less responsible? We have more obesity this year than last. Are we all less responsible? [1].” Hmm. Wise man, that Brownell, don’t ya think?

Regina Benjamin, a highly accomplished and well-regarded physician (who happens to be overweight) has been nominated for surgeon general. What does this message send? Brownell explains that Benjamin is an “excellent role model because she does struggle with her weight. Her nomination underscores that there are better ways to judge a person than by how much she weighs.” Great. But, how much is too much? At what point does a weight “struggle” turn into a weight “problem”??

[1]. LaRue Huget, Jennifer. Can We Fight Obesity by Slapping a Heavy Tax on Soda? The Washington Post. August 11, 2009.

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11 Comments

  1. Gina
    August 12, 2009 / 1:56 am

    They taxed cigarettes and that didn't work well, do you think taxing sodas would make that big of a difference? I dunno, I'm skeptical, but I guess anything is worth a try, as its truly a huge problem.

  2. Nicole M., MS, RD, LD
    August 12, 2009 / 2:01 am

    I think it would work better than with cigarettes because caffeine can be consumed in other forms (i.e. coffee). Plus, I would argue caffeine as a "lesser evil" when it comes to "drugs" than something like nicotine, but that's just me. I think that soda is a luxury, if you will, and that it's got no place in the diet. I always tell my patients that drinking their calories is typically not advisable for the average adult, and this CERTAINLY goes for soda.

  3. Cati
    August 12, 2009 / 2:04 am

    While I'm an advocate for creating healthy programs to combat childhood obesity, I don't think soley taxing soda will solve the problem. What about koolaid and juice? Both extremely high in sugar. Ultimately, all refined process foods are unhealthy, so are we going to tax white rice and cake mix next? I'm somewhat biased as both my H and my father work for a soft drink distributer. My H drinks about 4-5 sodas a day and he is no where near being over weight. So he shouldn't have to pay more b/c parents/people don't know how to make healthy choices for themselves an their children. In long run, people KNOW right and wrong but still continue to make unhealthy choices. Off soapbox :o)

  4. Sybil Hebert, RD
    August 13, 2009 / 4:33 am

    I definitely think that soda should be taxed. As you mention, Nicole, soft drinks have no nutritional value so shouldn't be considered food (that is not taxed)- it is a a luxury that should be taxed. Sure, not all people that drink regular soft drinks are obese. However, sugared beverages account for 10 to 15% of the calories consumed by children and teenagers and for each extra can or glass of sugared drink consumed a day, a child has a 60% increased risk of becoming obese.For every 10% increase in price, it's estimated that consumption would decrease by 7.8%. And, if 1/4 of the calories consumed from sugared beverages were replaced by other foods, the decrease in consumption would lead to an estimated reduction of 8000 calories per person per year which would result in a weight loss of just over 2 lbs a year for the average person, reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease substantially.The cost of unhealthy eating is an estimated $79 billion annually for overweight and obesity alone.(btw, I blogged about this before so that's where I got these numbers… not off the top of my head!!)I think that's a pretty good reason for a tax on an unhealthy luxury item, even if the person purchasing it isn't necessarily obese. Furthermore, I don't think it's a question of blaming parents for making wrong choices. There are many many factors that play a role in obesity (and the food industry plays a huge one) but this doesn't mean we should ignore the role of sugared beverages. We have to start somewhere.

  5. Nicole M., MS, RD, LD
    August 13, 2009 / 11:17 am

    Sybil, wow! You just totally made my morning! Thank you! I'm going to search your blog for your soda tax post now : ) Thanks for the input, I couldn't agree more!-Nicole

  6. Kelly
    August 14, 2009 / 2:25 am

    Ok I guess I kinda agree with both sides. While Sybil and Nicole make a great point that taxing soda (or as we call it in Chicago "pop" hehe) would cut down on the amount of unnecessary added calories, I kinda agree with Cati on where does it end? I mean as was mentioned before it's "sugared beverages" that are the problem. Which is not limited to just pop. I mean juices are very high in sugar as well, and if a person consumed a lot of juice, they would have a problem with weight as well. I definitely think that something needs to be done about the obesity epidemic, but I don't think that taxing soda alone will have an effect. I mean look at those people who go to McDonald's and order like 5 meals worth of food and think it's alright because they ordered the diet soda. Clearly pop is not the problem there. Maybe a fast food tax would be more appropriate.

  7. Cati
    August 14, 2009 / 2:58 am

    I don't 'blame' parents for their child being overweight, but I do believe it's parents responsibility to instill good eating habits and nutrional education in their children. As I'm sure you know as a RD, children who have overweight/obese parents are more than likely to be overweight themselves. If parents do not make healthy choices for their child at a young age, who will?I notice in your research you state sugared beverages…would this not entail juices, powdered drink mixes, or any other beverage with sugar. I think taxing sugared drinks would just open a pandora's box of taxation for the government. There are many different ways to tackle the issue. Weight loss boils down calories cosumed vs calories burned (which duh Cati, ya'll are RDs). Why not tax gaming systems or computers for hindering children from playing outside. No instead the govt is so concerned about no kids getting left behind and removing physical education while feeding them garbage at school lunch. Ultimately it's about personal choice. If they don't drink a soda, they can still wash that cupcake down with a glass of milk.

  8. Kelly
    August 14, 2009 / 10:34 pm

    I definitely agree with you Cati. The schools totally need to start adding physical education to the curriculum, and they need to have standards for that curriculum just as they do for math and reading. Maybe schools should start being required to add a nutrition class to the curriculum as well. When I was at the University of Michigan, we went to middle schools in the area to teach nutrition and it was appalling (sp?) how little the sixth graders knew. I mean these kids are 11 and 12 and don't know what things are considered fruits and vegetables. I mean Nicole is always talking about her 80/20 theory, so if someone eats super healthy and their one bad thing that they have a day is a regular soda, should they be punished for it? I don't know. I just think that there are other things that the government should be doing than taxing pop. And they say that the money from the tax will be used to fund programs to make healthy food cheaper and other programs to fight the obesity epidemic, but we all know in the long run it will end up in the general funds and we will still not have those programs. Just like the money from lotteries never made it to the funds for education like it was supposed to. I don't know…just my thoughts.

  9. Nicole M., MS, RD, LD
    August 14, 2009 / 11:07 pm

    I don't think an increased price is punishment. Alcohol is more expensive than soda, does that hinder some from drinking it? Absolutely, in my opinion. When I go out to dinner, I definitely think twice before ordering a glass of wine as it ups the bill a lot.I am all for 80-20 (obviously), and honestly, if unhealthy food (fast food, trans fat anything, etc.) were taxed, my 80-20 may be more like a 90-10! I think soda is one thing, but I'd dare to say…open up that can of worms, government, and RUN with it. Clearly America can't do it on their own and the percentage of our tax dollars going to treat chronic disease secondary to OBESITY is OUTRAGEOUS. I say bring it on, taxes, and in the process…make whole grains and produce more affordable. Lean meats and seafood, too, please!

  10. Kelly
    August 15, 2009 / 1:53 am

    I totally agree with you Nicole that if that's what the taxes were going to be actually used for then I'd be all for it. My point was that they say that the funds from these taxes are going to be used to make healthy foods more affordable, but I don't think that they will. They might start out that way, but the next year when they are going through the budget again it will be thrown in with the general funds like they did with the lotto money, and we will be left with unaffordable whole grains and produce, still paying for diseases. I'm not saying that I don't think something needs to be done. I definitely think that there needs to be something done. I'm just saying that taxing pop won't solve all of the problems. I don't even know that it will stop really anyone from drinking it. I mean the price of cigarettes is over $10 a pack in Chicago and yet tons of people start smoking each year still. PS I love your blog Nicole hehe I just like playing devil's advocate with you 🙂

  11. kim
    September 10, 2009 / 2:57 pm

    i definately do not agree with this… yes it may be a luxury and not food considering it has no nutritional value.. well then tax twinkies and ho hos and cupcakes and oreos and alot of other sweets… obesity is a problem but i dont think a tax on soda will effect that.. and on the view of someone who drinks soda ALL DAY and does not gain a pound(my boyfriend) he would hate that.. he's in great shape(high metabolism)so as it may be trying to help the ones who wont get up off the couch i think that it is punishing the ones who can manage their weight.

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