Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Tax Them? Ban Them?

May 13, 2011 08:20 by  Rachel Huber MPH RD

Over the past couple of years we’ve blogged about government efforts to tax sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce obesity and provide funding for health promotion initiatives:
Would a Sales Tax on Soda Slow Down Your Spending on Soft Drinks?
Food Prices and Calories
Is Taxing Soda a Good Idea?
Many states have jumped on board, as you can see on this map depicting states that will introduce legislation to impose taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in the new (2011) legislative session.
One state, however, is taking the fight against sugar-sweetened beverages a step further. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban the use of food stamps to buy sugar-sweetened beverages. Specifically, the mayor’s proposal would ban the use of food stamps to buy carbonated and noncarbonated beverages that are sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup and have no more than 10 calories per 8-ounce serving. Mayor Bloomberg and the city are seeking permission from the Agriculture Department to test its proposal in a two-year project.
This is what the proponents and opponents are saying of such a ban. Please share your thoughts on our Facebook page!
According to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp program), SNAP is “a nutrition program that helps low-income people have better diets”; if this is such, the assistance provided should be used to buy foods in line with the government’s recommendations for a healthy diet – which does not include sugar-sweetened beverages.
New York officials estimate that $75 to $135 million in food stamp benefits are spent on sugar-sweetened beverages in the city each year; thus, they are a large contributor to American’s “empty” calories and “extra” calories, which are clearly linked to overweight and obesity.
This ban would give families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.
The government spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year buying beverages that have been linked to risks of obesity and diabetes; in turn, these conditions cost the government and taxpayers billions of dollars a year in costs paid by Medicaid and Medicare.
A ban like this would allow the government to distinguish between “good” and “bad” foods (contradicting the “all foods fit” in moderation philosophy) and may lead to banning the use of food stamps for other products.
Many factors, besides sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to obesity and this one move is not going to “solve” the problem of obesity in the U.S.
Imposing restrictions on food stamps would require retailers to reprogram computers and embarrass some customers at the checkout counter.
The plan is unfair to food stamp recipients because it treats them differently from other customers.

Original Printing: The Cooper Institute Blog-

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