Is a Tax on Sugary Beverages Really Effective?

A new study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics has found that taxing sugary beverages in the United States could reduce the calorie intake from these beverages. However, additional outcomes showed that this strategy was not working.

Researchers from Duke University, RTI International and the U.S. Department of Agriculture performed this joint study, which examined the effects of increasing the price of beverages sweetened with sugar by half a cent per ounce, or about ten cents on a 20-ounce bottle of soda.

Results showed that although people did buy less of the sugary drinks, they substituted them for other processed foods, high in salt and fat. Lead author Chen Zhen, Ph.D, says, “instituting a sugary beverage tax may be an appealing public policy option to curb obesity, but it’s not as easy to use taxes to curb obesity as it is with smoking… consumers can simply substitute an untaxed high calorie food for a taxed one.”

Zhen also observes, “and as we know, reducing calories is just one of many ways to promoting healthy eating and reducing nutrition-related chronic disease.” Zhen is right that calorie reduction is just one way to address our nation’s obesity problem, but furthermore, America’s focus on calories, as opposed to on real nutrition, has us working against ourselves.

Organizations such as Weight Watchers provide members with a calorie limit, but do nothing to limit the types of calories eaten – nutritious or empty. The entire mindset of ‘eating what we want, just not as much,’ has done very little to curb rising obesity rates, type 2 diabetes rates, and the host of other health issues that arise from eating processed foods.

soda taxIt would be interesting to see what the result of a tax on all processed food items would be, but with our current mindset, it seems fair to speculate that the effect would be limited at best. In order for America’s $147 billion dollar per year obesity epidemic to be truly addressed, people need to get out of the habit of purchasing junk food altogether.

This study verifies that taxing one unhealthy processed item simply makes consumers reach for another. Calorie counting is not the answer. Education on real foods, real cooking methods, and real nutrition has the potential to create a new perspective on eating.

If we practice this philosophy at home and teach it to our children, we may still be able to reverse our climbing obesity rates, before more lives are unnecessarily lost.

-The Alternative Daily


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