Impose Higher Taxes on Soft Drinks and Junk Food
Increasing taxes on soft drinks and junk food will reduce consumption which will lead to less obesity and improved health in the general population, according to researchers Helen Eyles and her associates at the University of Auckland and University of Otago. With the aim of improving health by reducing consumption as a result of high taxation, it is necessary first to define the terms. Junk foods are packed with lots of calories, but with little nutritional value. They generally contain large amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), salt and fat. People tend to consume these foods because they taste good, but have little satiation value, and therefore, people tend to overeat. Rather than drinking dairy products or juice, people consume sodas. Instead of snacking on healthy fruits or vegetables people tend to eat cookies and chips. There is a direct connection between what we eat and our health. As the rate of consumption of junk food and sodas increases, so will the rate of obesity and related diseases. By imposing taxes on junk food and sodas, consumption will decrease, according to the article “Raising Junk Food Prices Could Spur People to Consume Less.” The United Nations (UN) reporter Olivier de Schutter recommended a 10% tax increase on these foods and drinks. De Schutter shows that this tax will reduce consumption of junk food and sodas by 8 to 10%. This taxation will be effective because price is one of the most important factors influencing food choice. The policy of taxation has already proved successful in the area of cigarettes as documented by Lisa Baertlein and Joseph Mercola. Taxes have led to permanent decreases in sales and the global prevalence of smoking. Mark Bittman of the New York Times reported that taxation of junk food and sodas has proven effective in other countries such as Mexico, England and Italy.
Why is junk food and soda so detrimental to our health? Joyce Hendley reviewed the literature which showed that fast food consumption was linked to an increase in obesity. Between 1977 and 1996, snack foods accounted for a 30% increase in total calories for American children ages 2 through 5. Further research noted that fast food can be addictive, and children who regularly ate fast food were at increased risk of obesity. Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndromes and high triglyceride levels, all of which may contribute to heart disease. Hendley reports an increased rate of chronic illness in children who eat fast food. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that at the current rate of rising obesity, 1 in 3 adults will have diabetes by the year 2050. The high levels of sodium and fat in junk food may potentially raise the rates of hypertension, fatty liver and renal disease. Unhealthy weight gain and poor diet can also lead to low self-esteem, depression and death. According to Hendley, depression in children can lead to poor performance in school and negatively impact good social interactions. Alissa Fleck revealed that diets high in sugar led to lower levels of energy in children and a decreased ability to concentrate. The article “Fast Food Nutrition” pointed out that the lack of nutrition in junk food can cause chronic fatigue which decreases physical activity and aggravates obesity.
To put this problem in perspective, Olivier de Schutter concluded that “obesity is a bigger global health threat than tobacco use.” Also, Elaine Magee observed that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a maximum of 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons of sugar per day for men. One can of soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS. About 30 years ago, HFCS was widely introduced into processed foods. There was a simultaneous increase in the rate of obesity. There is controversy whether the true culprit in this obesity epidemic is HFCS or all sugars. Joyce Hendley found that HFCS is used to sweeten almost all sodas in the United States. Hendley interviewed Barry Pope, PhD., a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who explained that “the real obesity problem is the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages.”
Researcher Susan Babey agreed with the action of the American Medical Association (AMA) which, in 2007, called for a tax on junk food and sugary snacks containing HFCS. Food taxes are meant to improve our diet and reduce obesity and those diseases associated with obesity. Hendley and other supporters of taxation point to the fall in smoking rates after taxes sent cigarette prices soaring. Hendley interviewed Mary Story, a dietician and public health professor at the University of Minnesota, who explained, “The research around tobacco has shown that large increases of taxes on cigarettes have been the single most effective policy to reduce tobacco use.” Helen Eyles and her university associates found that “taxes on carbonated drinks and saturated fat and subsidies on fruits and vegetables are associated with beneficial dietary change, with the potential for improved health.” Mark Bittman reported that Mexico has already implemented taxation on junk food and sugar sweetened beverages, and this has caused a decrease in consumption. Mexico appears to have placed public health above the profits of industry. Furthermore, Christina Palmer reported that the Navajos passed “The Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2013.” It imposes an additional 2% sales tax on junk food. The proceeds will be used for wellness related projects. The Navajos also eliminated sales tax on fruits and vegetables. The revenue generated from taxation will raise money that will be dedicated to wellness programs and the expansion of exercise programs and equipment.
Significant action needs to be a taken to stem the rising rates of obesity and related diseases. Carolyn Lochhead’s survey of European countries, where legislation has been enacted to tax foods and drinks high in sugars and fats, shows that obesity rates have reached a plateau. In these countries, which include England, Italy, Hungary, Korea and Switzerland, obesity rates have stagnated. While in Canada, Ireland and the U.S., which do not have such legislation, the obesity rates have increased 4 to 5%. In addition to taxation of junk food and sodas, the government should stop subsidizing the corn industry, which is the sole provider of HFCS. These legislative matters will go a long way in improving the health of children and adults. By decreasing the rate of obesity, society will save billions of health care dollars by preventing obesity related disorders. As Scott Mowbray suggested, it is time to counteract the food industry’s concoction of sugars and fats which are addictive to the brain’s pleasure centers. Jeff Ritterman believes that American culture, which has accepted fast foods and sweet drinks as a way of life, is at a crossroads. It is time to make a drastic change for a healthier America.
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