The Case for Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Citing research that shows drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is helping fuel the obesity epidemic, Rudd Center Director Kelly Brownell, PhD, and New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, argued for taxing sugared beverages in the April 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
In their ”Perspective” piece, the two reviewed scientific studies that showed that taxes could substantially reduce consumption of sugared beverages, cut caloric intake, and help prevent obesity and diabetes as well as the consequences of these conditions. Noting that “taxes on tobacco have been highly effective in reducing consumption,” the authors wrote that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages could both reduce consumption and generate revenue for needed programs to prevent obesity among children and adults.
Soda has become progressively more affordable, while fruit and vegetables have become less affordable, according to data from the USDA. In the past decade, intake of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased by nearly 30 percent and children and adolescents now consume 10 to 15 percent of all their calories in beverages.
Research has linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to poor nutrition, weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. Likewise, the authors wrote, “interventional studies show that reduced intake of soft drinks improves health.” The beverage industry has vigorously opposed soft drink taxes, but Drs. Brownell and Frieden argued that such taxes “could become a key tool in efforts to improve public health.”
A penny-per-ounce excise tax would raise an estimated $1.2 billion in New York State alone. More important, the tax “could reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10%,” the authors wrote. “It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task.” Drs. Brownell and Frieden noted that taxing on a per-ounce basis is likely to have a much larger health impact than increasing sales taxes. Earmarking some of the tax revenues to address childhood and adult obesity increases public support of taxes on soda, they reported.
Rudd Center Director Gives Testimony to House Appropriations Subcommittee
In recent testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee, Rudd Center Director Kelly Brownell, PhD, provided a blueprint for ways the USDA can combat obesity and foster an environment where people can easily make healthier food choices. U.S. residents have become physically and psychologically distant from food, Dr. Brownell told the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.
Little attention has been given to the environmental impact of making foods available at artificially low cost, he said. New agricultural technologies, improved transportation, genetic modification, and subsidy policies have led to massive production of processed foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt. Dr. Brownell said the challenge is setting a course that helps remedy hunger, helps prevent obesity, ensures healthy food availability, and establishes a new societal relationship with food.
Dr. Brownell said the USDA can play an important role in meeting the challenge and suggested the following changes toward that goal:
- Use Institute of Medicine standards on permissible competitive foods.
- Increase reimbursement rates for school breakfast and lunch programs.
- Strengthen the standards and policies of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act; Child and Adult Care Food Programs; Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC); and Food Stamps.
Dr. Brownell also recommended new initiatives, including:
- Develop strategies to connect nutrition and environmental issues in the Farm Bill and across USDA programs.
- Create a commission on hunger, obesity, and the environmental impact of food practices.
- Increase support for farm-to-school programs.
- Increase support for school gardens.
- Commission the Institute of Medicine to complete a thorough economic and health analysis of the impact of subsidies on the nations’ nutrition and health.
- Commission the Institute of Medicine to complete a study examining the impact of food prices and food access on the health of the nation.
Click here to read Dr. Brownell’s full testimony.
Study Links Practices of Food and Tobacco Industries
In a review and analysis of the tobacco and food industries, researchers identified similarities in marketing and lobbying strategies used by both industries.
The authors, Rudd Center Director Kelly Brownell, PhD, and Kenneth Warner, PhD, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, found that the food and tobacco industries emphasize personal responsibility, influence government and professional organizations, pay scientists who produce favorable research, and market “safer” products. In their article, which appeared in the March issue of the Milbank Quarterly, the authors encouraged the food industry to change both marketing and nutritional practices to avoid negative health consequences for consumers.
“While we recognize the inherent differences between cigarettes and food, the food industry must accept responsibility for what they are selling and how they are selling it,” said Dr. Brownell. “Consumers have a right to accurate information—not just spin—about the safety and nutritional value of the food they are eating.”
Key recommendations for the food industry included:
- Market the benefits of foods according to their actual health profiles.
- Sell only healthful products in schools, hospitals, and other places associated with the well-being of children.
- Fully and publicly disclose names and amounts of money paid to non-industry scientists who produce research.
Click here for Dr. Brownell’s interview with Yale Environment 360 about the common marketing and lobbying tactics employed by the food and tobacco industries.
Upcoming Seminar Speakers:
April 22, 12:30 pm: Christina Economos, PhD
RESCHEDULED FOR FALL SEMINAR SERIES
May 6, 12:30 pm: Michael W. Hamm, PhD
To receive a weekly email from the Rudd Center detailing upcoming seminars and schedule changes, please click here.
Restricted Access to Healthy Foods in Poor Areas
Baltimore grocery stores in poor neighborhoods are much less likely to sell healthy foods than those in wealthier neighborhoods, according to articles in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The studies were the first to explore the trend in a large city.
The studies reinforced the findings of a paper coauthored by Tatiana Andreyeva, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Economic Initiatives. Dr. Andreyeva’s paper, “Availability and Prices of Foods Across Stores and Neighborhoods: The Case of New Haven, Connecticut,” was published in the September/October 2008 issue of Health Affairs. The recent research found that high rates of obesity and diabetes in poor and minority populations are linked to limited access to supermarkets and affordable healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, trans fat-free products, whole grains, and lean meats.
Policymakers can increase access by improving public transportation to grocery stores, providing lighting and police patrols near grocery stores, offering incentives for purchase of refrigeration equipment for fresher and healthier products, and offering tax breaks to attract supermarkets. Successful initiatives have taken place in cities across the U.S., including New York City, Austin, Milwaukee, and Oakland.
Videos Exposing Weight Bias Available
*A must-see and must-share for teachers and health care providers*
The stigmatization of obese adults by employers, educators, health care providers, family members, romantic partners, and the media is rampant. To help increase public awareness about this issue, the Rudd Center has released two new videos on weight bias. The videos are hosted by Emme, model and women's advocate. They feature Rudd Center experts, including Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research & Weight Stigma Initiatives. Using expert commentary and dramatic representation, the videos address the obstacles obese individuals encounter at home, in schools, and within health care settings.
The videos can be viewed on the Rudd Center website or Yale’s YouTube channel. To receive a free DVD of the videos, please email the Rudd Center.
Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Dana Small, PhD
Dana Small’s research focuses on how individual factors interact with sensory coding to influence food selection. The factors include body mass index, smoking status, alcohol use, sensitivity to reward, and genetic makeup. Her research is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, and National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Dr. Small has collaborated with the Rudd Center by presenting her work in the Seminar Series, participating in Rudd Center workshops, and providing commentary on the Rudd Sound Bites blog.
She is Associate Fellow at the John B. Pierce Laboratory, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, and Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University.
Dr. Small earned her MSc and PhD from McGill University. She has received the Ajinomoto Award for Research in Gustation, the Moskowitz Jacobs Award for Research Excellence in the Psychophysics of Taste and Smell, and the Firmenich Flavor and Fragrance Science Award.
She serves on the Executive Committee for the Association of Chemoreception Sciences and on the Editorial Boards of Chemosensory Perception, Frontiers in Neuroscience, and the European Journal of Neuroscience.
The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts
David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD
Associate Professor, Pediatric, Harvard Medical School; Director, Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program
- Integrative, Family-based Approach to Childhood Obesity
- Soft Drinks and Fast Food
- The Glycemic Index
Steven C. Hayes, PhD
Foundation Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Nevada
- Principles and Applications of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Applications of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Weight Issues
Our collection of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine – Nutrition & Obesity section, or you may subscribe to a RSS Feed that will automatically update whenever new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.