July 18, 2012
By Nishi Singhal
Obesity is a major public health crisis in the United States affecting:
- over 1 in 3 of adult men and women
- about 1 in 5 of children and adolescents
Obesity and its associated problems have a large economic impact on our health care system.
- $147 billion spent on obesityNearly
- 10% of all medical spending nationally
- 1/2 of all Medicare and Medicaid spending
Increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is a key factor driving this growing problem:
- The consumption of sweetened beverages has increased dramatically in the past thirty years.
- In 2009, Americans consumed 13.8 billion gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages.
- That’s 70,000 empty calories per person.
There are several health consequences of obesity:
- Coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, etc.
- Two-thirds of overweight children have at least one cardiovascular risk factor (e.g., hypertension, hyperlipidemia)
- Type II diabetes mellitus is increasing in youth.
Currently, several states have implemented a sales tax on soda sold at restaurants and vending machines; however, there are no statistically significant differences in obesity prevalence between states without taxes on soda compared to states with taxes with at least a 5% sales tax on soda. Studies have found that an excise tax would be most effective in decreasing consumption versus a sales tax since an excise tax applies to the wholesaler or producer of the SSB and this is directly passed on to the consumer and reflected in the shelf price. Additionally, studies have found that a substantial taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages can reduce consumption:
A study found that a nationwide penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce consumption by 15% among adults. This would prevent:
- 100,000 cases of heart disease,
- 8,000 strokes, and
- 26,000 deaths over the next ten years.
- 240,000 cases of diabetes a year.
Preventing disease saves money and will improve the health status of Americans:
- $17.1 billion over the next ten years
- Implement a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce consumption and its associated problems.
- Policymakers should earmark the revenue generated from the tax for obesity prevention programs in order to further reduce associated health problems.
Some legislators and political organizations do not support an excise tax on Sugar Sweetened Beverages because they believe that the tax is regressive and places a burden on working families. However, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is regressive—greater burden on the poor than the rich—with lower income and minority groups consuming more sugary beverages. The tax would actually reduce this disparity by decreasing consumption in these groups and therefore decreasing the health problems associated with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Additionally, many food companies argue against the tax since they believe it is unethical and the public will not support it. However, roughly one-third to one-half of consumers supports SSB taxes and over two-thirds of the population supports SSB taxes if the revenues will be used for obesity prevention and health promotion. In all, the benefits of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages outweigh the negatives and the tax should be implemented for the benefit of public health.
Nishi Singhal joined the National Coalition on Health Care as a Paul G. Roger Scholar in the Summer 2012 after graduating with a Masters in Public Health in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Nishi’s interests lie in chronic disease prevention and its role in reducing health care costs. Nishi enjoys traveling abroad, reading and is learning to garden organically.