Priya Menon Priya Menon Scientific Media Editor at Curetalk

Beating Obesity In Children – Should We Levy A Tax On Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (Pepsi, Coke, etc)

Obesity

Evolution of obesity is attributed to changes in socio-economic lifestyle factors.

Take Action against Obesity – Will a Soda Tax work?

A series of reports on obesity were recently published in The Lancet, which state that since the cause of obesity has been reasonably identified, it is time to act to bring about a reversal of the condition or at least work together towards an obesity free society. Some of the factors responsible for the advent of obesity identified include environmental forces, economic interests, and changes in food and beverage industries, urbanization, and introduction of women to the workforce. The authors propose many changes and policies that can be implemented to bring about an accountable change. They call upon the government to act strongly and mobilize international support for the same since obesity is not restricted to the developed nations alone; it has infiltrated all the developing countries too.

In the reports the authors propose some cost saving and health saving measures and this includes a 10% tax on unhealthy foods and drinks like sugar-sweetened beverages. They elucidate that food and beverage marketing increases obesity rates and the children are the most vulnerable. Dr. Gortmaker says that,

Children aged 2 to 19 consume seven trillion calories of sugar-sweetened beverages a year. It’s a $24 billion industry just for kids alone.

Now the question arises, would soda or sugar sweetened beverage taxes curb obesity in children?

This is not as straightforward as it sounds. The relationship between consumption of sweetened beverages, weight gain, and taxes are not very simple. The entire taxes on sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) movement began when Dr. Thomas R. Frieden and Kelly d. Brownell wrote in that New England Journal of Medicine that,

Sugar-sweetened beverages (soda sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, or other caloric sweeteners and other carbonated and uncarbonated drinks, such as sports and energy drinks) may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic.

They also noted that a price rise of 10% reduced consumption by 7.8%. They went on to classify SSBs as junk food and recommended restrictions on sale to minors.

However, sweetened beverages have not been proven to be worse in causing weight gain than other forms of calories like fruits, chocolate cake, milk, meat etc. Another aspect that clouds the SSB taxation initiative is that all people do not consume the same amount of soda / sugar sweetened beverage.

Nevertheless, strategies like those that helped bring down smoking may help in containing the obesity epidemic to some extent. Of course, decline in smoking took more than one night and even the obesity epidemic would take quite an amount of sweat and toil. Taking action as soon as possible should be the slogan of the international community in combating this menace.

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