Passing an opportunity to curb obesity

Sept. 22, 2009, midnight | By Lauren Kestner | 14 years, 2 months ago

With obesity-related deaths second only to those caused by tobacco, one would expect Congress to jump at the opportunity to reduce the consumption of drinks linked with weight gain. But when it came to fighting America's rapidly expanding waistlines, House lawmakers dismissed the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as too divisive in the healthcare reform debate.

Congressional rejection of the proposed one cent per ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages, hailed as a viable tool for reducing obesity in a New England Journal of Medicine article, is due largely to a concentrated effort by the beverage industry to lobby influential lawmakers.

Consumers would have been taxed one cent per ounce on these sugar-sweetened beverages had House lawmakers added the proposal to the healthcare reform bill.  Photo courtesy of Lauren Kestner.

A Washington Post article published on Sept. 17 revealed that Americans Against Food Taxes, an organization parading as "a coalition of concerned citizens," has a media department headed by the American Beverage Association. The organization, led by top executives from major soft drink companies, also finances commercials broadcast on cable networks that downplay the long-term health consequences of soda consumption.

Lawmakers should not have sacrificed the nation's health to appease the rabble-rousing beverage industry. A June 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans support the soda tax, which is projected to generate $14.9 billion in the first year alone. Money raised would be allocated to childhood nutrition programs, obesity-prevention programs and our Medicare system, which pays for half of the $147 million spent on medical costs for overweight and obese individuals.

Executives from the beverage industry lamented the financial strain such a tax would pose to consumers, but a one cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is a small price to pay for a projected eight - 10 percent decrease in consumption. A team of leading doctors, scientists and health advisors commissioned to write the report in the New England Journal of Medicine cited a two-year study of middle-school students that demonstrates the potential benefits of such a tax. The report found that the risk of becoming obese increased by 60 percent for every additional serving of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed daily. The health risks associated with obesity, including increased incidences of coronary heart disease and type-two diabetes, are substantial enough for Congress to have justified adopting the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Kevin Keane, a senior vice president for public affairs at the American Beverage Association, challenged the commission's conclusion that sodas are a direct contributor to America's obesity problem. "When it comes to losing weight, all the calories count, regardless of the food source," he said to a Washington Post reporter. "The bottom line is that the tax isn't going to make anybody healthier." What Keane - a company executive with a vested interest in his business' financial success - neglected to mention is the indisputable correlation between doubled consumption of caloric beverages and tripled child obesity rates over the past 30 years. Congressional lawmakers, on the other hand, are elected to protect the best interests of the American people and had no legitimate excuse to ignore these trends.

Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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