Soda Tax Could Help Combat Obesity Epidemic

By Amir Khan on May 16, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

Soda Drinks
Roughly 180,000 deaths to sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks are reported every year. (Photo: Reuters)

Taxing sodas and other sugary drinks could help curb obesity by over 3 percent and save over 2,700 lives every year, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday.

British researchers call for a 20 percent tax on soda in order to stop the rising obesity rate in England, the heaviest country in the European Union. They also call for subsidizing vegetables and other healthy foods to make eating better easier for everyone.

"We've tried other measures to reduce obesity and they haven't worked," Mike Rayner, study author and director of the British Heart Foundation research group at Oxford University, told the Associated Press. "We need more drastic and innovative measures."

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Obesity is a problem worldwide. In the United States, more than 35 percent of adults older than 20 are obese. In 1985, no state had an obesity rate higher than 14 percent. By 2010, no state had an obesity rate lower than 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Obesity is an expensive problem as well. Costs associated with obesity accounts for $190 billion annually in the U.S. More than 20.6 percent of all national health expenditures is spent on managing obesity and the related plethora of health problems, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Economics.

One out of five children consume three or more soda or other sugary drinks, according to the HBO documentary Weight of The Nation. Dr. Jana Klauer, a New York private practice nutrition physician, told ABC News that soda can act as "gateway drug" to obesity.

"Sugary soda is nothing more than liquid calories which stimulate appetite," she said.

However, making sugary drinks more expensive may not encourage people to drink healthier, just different, Alice Lichtenstein, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, who was not involved in the study, told the Associated Press.

"It is important to make sure that whatever efforts are made to decrease pop consumption, they don't drive people to choose other beverages that contain a similar number of calories, (like) fruit juice," she said.

The American Beverage Association rejected the tax idea, saying that a soda tax would not help the obesity rate.

"Singling out one set of products in such an overly simplistic manner only undermines efforts to combat this complex issue," the organization said in a statement.

But taxing soda would encourage manufacturers to make their products healthier, Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, told the Associated Press.

"Taxation at such levels would be a reminder to manufacturers to reformulate," he said.

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