When I talk to my personal fitness clients, one of the most common concerns I hear is, I know it’s bad for me, but I just love soda.
Unfortunately, it’s a common refrain: A 2012 study stated that almost half of all Americans drink soda at least once a day, despite knowing that soda “is bad for them.” Soda consumption, besides being a contributing factor to obesity generally, is also linked with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, bone density issues, and — as latest research has shown — Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s exactly why many cities across the country are taking a stab at helping their residents kick the habit. Numerous cities — Philadelphia, Boulder, Colo., San Francisco and Seattle among them — have all taken runs at trying to institute a soda tax.
In fact, despite his failed attempt to institute a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was adamant that it had been the right move. "With so many people contracting diabetes and heart disease, with so many children who are overweight and obese, with so many poor neighborhoods suffering the worst of this epidemic ... it would be irresponsible not to," he said after the attempt was struck down by the Manhattan Supreme Court.
"People are dying every day. This is not a joke."
Research in the September 2018 edition of the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition has suggested that the taxes do, in fact, have a slight chilling effect on the the habit. Scientists analyzed 17 studies intended to explore both sales reports and the buying behavior of the public after a tax was implemented.
The research concluded that the higher the tax, the greater effect on purchasing choices; taxes hovering around 10 percent had the greatest effect.
The thinking behind taxing soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks is that, if we make it harder for the public to afford the product, then perhaps they won’t buy it. Or, alternately, if people are going to insist on buying something consistently shown to be deleterious to one’s health, then the tax revenue should go to strengthening the health care system in that local community.
The larger problem is that people simply don’t understand what it means to eat healthily, and that a tax isn’t a nutrition lesson unless it’s partnered with a robust public health campaign that combines research with insight into how to incorporate healthier practices in one’s day to day life.
Despite New York City’s failed attempt to tax the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks, the city still managed to achieve a 35 percent decrease in adult consumption, and 27 percent for high schoolers primarily because, alongside the attempt to institute the tax, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Health crafted a masterful campaign intended to educate the public on the harmful effects of overconsumption. Simply pinning a tax on a singular harmful item isn’t enough to encourage healthier habits, especially when people might harbor an unhealthy attachment to the item in question.
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