New York Governor David Patterson is proposing a new tax to help close their massive budget deficit. Some call it the obesity tax or fat tax, basically it’s a 15% levy on non-diet soft drinks. If this becomes law, a Coke will cost you $1.15 while a Diet Coke costs $1. So does this make sense?
The conservative in me says that taxation is inherently bad, just another way for the government to make up for their budgetary mismanagement. If they need money, they can find it by spending cuts. But the capitalist in me says that if you want to discourage bad behavior then increasing the price on such behavior is the proper way to go, and the market will allow things to properly settle. It has worked to some degree with smoking as the huge taxes on cigarettes have helped many people at least cut back if not quit completely. So why not do the same for bad food?
I’m actually okay with this kind of tax. Obesity is becoming the number one health problem in this country and childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Latest estimates show that 20% of children are obese. That’s appalling. These same children are being diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes before they turn 20, and some are developing coronary artery disease before age 30. Obesity brings with it many other health problems, things like osteoarthritis, hypertension, asthma, infertility, chronic fatigue, high cholesterol and depression/anxiety just to name a few. This translates to higher costs for health care and if those patients can’t afford it then these costs are passed on to the general consumer. Indeed, in my opinion, obesity is THE number one health problem in our country. Eliminate it, and we eliminate many, many other medical problems.
The beverage association points to two studies that supposedly link diet soda to obesity, as though to claim that the tax targets the wrong thing. Disregard these studies. The data in question shows that people who drink diet soda are more likely to be obese than those who don’t. This would lead some to conclude that diet soda causes obesity. That’s not a proper conclusion. In order to draw such a conclusion, you’d have to structure the study in a way that includes people of similar genetic backgrounds, fed the exact same diet, on the exact same exercise program, with the exception being one group gets diet soda and the other gets something else. Then you follow these people over time to see who gains more weight. That’s not what these studies did. They simply gathered statistical data on the general population that showed obese people are more likely to drink diet soda. All that tells me is that obese people are more likely to diet than non-obese people, and drinking diet soda is often part of dieting. I’m sure I could produce a similar study that shows that people who drink slim fast are more likely to be obese, yet are we prepared to say that slim fast causes obesity?
So if you want to tax soda then that’s fine with me. A typical 12 ounce soda contains about 120 calories, more than 10% of our recommended daily caloric intake, more than you’ll find in a typical light beer. Drink 3 or 4 a day and you’ve consumed 40% of your daily calories without taking a single bite. And this doesn’t even address the basic metabolic effects of sugar and what it does to insulin levels. Yeah, sugary soft drinks are most definitely contributing to our health problems. The state of Texas has eliminated soda vending machines in their public schools. Good riddance. There is no doubt in my mind that this new trend of over-diagnosing attention deficit disorder is in some way related to the amount of sugar intake these kids are experiencing. It just makes sense. A child hopped up on sugar is going to have difficulty concentrating, focusing and paying attention in class.
So I say tax it, but don’t stop there. Why not tax other things that are problematic? I’d levy a tax on fast food, candy, potato chips, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. But the powerful food lobbies would never allow it, and the dems would hardly support it claiming that it would unfairly tax the poor. Bull.
It’s funny how we so easily demonize tobacco, yet seem to have little problem with a super size menu at the local fast food joint. I could make a strong argument that eating off that menu is worse for your body than smoking. But something tells me that argument would fall on deaf ears. But one thing’s for sure: If we don’t take action to stop the obesity epidemic in America we’re going to see a massive increase in health care costs, a drop in life expectancy and declining worker productivity. That will make it hard for us to compete with countries like China, which doesn’t seem to have this problem.