August 1, 2009

Soft Drink Tax Imminent?

Health officials from the CDC are discussing an option that would enact taxes on high-sugar soda drinks in order to encourage Americans to stay in shape.

Officials from the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity held the inaugural "Weight of the Nation" conference in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss possible measures to prevent and control obesity "through policy and environmental strategies."

The possible measure to tax sodas would help Americans stay away from high-sugar, high-calorie drinks as well as increase funding to enable the government to combat the growing obesity epidemic.

"The average American consumes roughly 250 calories more today than they did two or three decades ago," said Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC.

"And of that, about 120 calories is in the form of sodas and other sugared food and beverages," he said.

Frieden is perhaps best known for taking action to ban smoking in New York City workplaces while sitting as the head of one of the nation's largest public health agencies. His measures are credited with reducing the city's number of smokers by 350,000.

"We reduced adult smoking by 25 percent and teen smoking by 50 percent in six years. About half of that reduction was the result of taxation," Frieden said.

He also worked to ban trans fats from foods served in New York City restaurants and pushed for mandatory menu postings in most of the city's restaurants.

The CDC estimates that two-thirds of American adults fall under the category of overweight or obese. Obesity is a preventable cause of many health issues that result in almost $150 billion dollars each year spent by the US.

"The estimates we've seen suggest that a one-penny-per-ounce tax nationally would raise something in the order of 100 to 200 billion dollars over a 10-year time frame, as well as significantly reducing caloric intake -- at least from soda and sugar-sweetened beverages," Frieden said.

Julie Greenstein of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) told the AFP that between 40 and 50 US states currently have taxes on soft drinks or junk food, however the taxes remain too low to alter the public's rate of consumption.

"The soft drink industry has a very powerful lobby," said Greenstein.

Last week, the Financial Times quoted the Coca Cola Corporation as saying that "the consumer in this environment is not ready for a tax on a basic staple like non-alcoholic beverages."

Frieden said he was unsure of whether or not the agency would be able to impose a tax on sugary soft drinks, but admitted that "the nation's prevention agency is that obesity is an enormous problem, and price interventions are likely to be effective."


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