Tag Archives: soda tax

Federal Subsidies for Soda?

I recently read a great editorial blog from the Huffington Post.  It made the great argument that soda in this country is being subsidized by the government.  It’s not being subsidized in the traditional way that, say, corn is, but that’s semantics.  The way it is being subsidized is by allowing people to use the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formally known as food stamps) to buy sugary soda with their money provided by tax payers.  The government doesn’t allow SNAP to be used to buy alcohol or tobacco so why would it let people buy a product that is just as bad for your health as those two are?  Below is the entire blog.  It’s written by Michael F. Jacobson Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Let me know what you think.

Blog Entry

Forty-three million Americans depend on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, to help provide the foods they need for good health. SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is a critically important part of the government’s safety net and has become even more vital to low-income families since the economic downturn.

The program distributes benefits via an Electronic Benefits Card that can be swiped at participating supermarkets and, increasingly, farmer’s markets. But the benefits cannot be used to purchase tobacco, alcoholic beverages, supplement pills, hot prepared foods, and non-food items. For those products, SNAP recipients must use their own money.

Unfortunately, huge amounts of SNAP dollars are used to purchase carbonated soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Already among the least expensive foods in the supermarket, these drinks are nutritionally worthless and promote obesity, diabetes and other diseases that have a disproportionate impact on low-income Americans.

One supermarket executive shared with me confidentially that carbonated soft drinks accounted for 6.2 percent of the grocery bills of SNAP recipients. Considering that recipients will spend $65 billion of SNAP benefits on groceries in 2010, that works out to around $4 billion taxpayer dollars that go toward the purchase of soda pop. And that sum doesn’t include non-carbonated soft drinks, which are just as nutritionally poor, such as Gatorade, fruit-flavored drinks with little or no juice, and so on.

Though excluding sugar-sweetened beverages from SNAP would be controversial, setting nutrition standards for government food programs is hardly new. The school lunch and breakfast programs administered by USDA comply with strict nutrition standards that exclude soda and junk food, as does the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which is limited to foods that have specific health benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children.

The federal government should be doing everything it can to reduce soda consumption, not encouraging it. In fact, the government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee bluntly stated, “avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.” There would be stiff opposition to eliminating soda from SNAP from several quarters, and the soft drink industry would certainly pull out all the stops. That’s what happened when the idea of a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda was floated in Congress and in the New York State legislature. And Coca-Cola in particular has a long track record of using its “philanthropy” as a way of buying new friends and silencing critics.

A less controversial way to use the SNAP program to promote healthier diets would be to provide recipients with a financial incentive to purchase fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One easy way would be to provide a credit of say, 30 extra cents, for every dollar spent on healthy foods.

The SNAP program also funds a good chunk of the nutrition education that goes on in the United States, in the form of nearly $400 million in matching grants for state and local governments. But incredibly, during the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that SNAP education funds could NOT be spent to mount community-wide campaigns to discourage the consumption of specific foods, such as soda, and the Obama administration has retained that policy. As a result, health officials in the city of California, Maine, Wyoming, and San Francisco have been effectively gagged when they’ve tried to run campaigns about the health effects of soft drink consumption. We’ve called on the administration to reverse this gag rule, and let SNAP-Ed funds be spent in this most-cost-effective way. (New York City has been running an ad campaign that should be emulated all over the country.)

I suspect that most people would agree that it makes sense not to allow federal nutrition assistance funds to purchase Budweiser and Marlboros, and reasonable people could disagree on where exactly to draw the line. But Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and other soft drinks make no positive contribution to the diet, promote expensive and debilitating diseases, and make our already stark health disparities worse. I would draw the line at soda. This is a product–and an industry–that needs to be taxed, not subsidized.

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Statistics on Soft Drinks – You’ll be amazed!

The Stats on Soft Drinks
Dr. Court’s Comments

Some of the stats above are just for fun, but they are interesting.  The ones I think we should all pay attention to are the ones that relate to our health.  Many of you reading this know that soda is bad for you, but seeing just how many liters the average American consumes in soda per year is truly astounding.

According to this, 216 liters are consumed every year by the average person in the United States.  Japan drinks a tenth of that much!  Is it surprising that Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world?

Let’s give you a little perspective on just how much 216 liters is.  It is exactly 57.06 gallons!  That is a lot of soda!  That’s 7,296 ounces of soda or roughly 20 ounces per day per person.

Now, also consider that this is an average.  That means it must take into account everyone, including the people who are not drinking any soda.  So for every person that’s not drinking any soda there is a person drinking at least 40 oz. per day to make up the difference.

I know that some of you reading this know that soda is extremely bad for your health and that you don’t drink any of the stuff.  That just goes to show you that there are plenty more people who regularly consume massive quantities of soda.

So why is soda so bad?  When you drink these sugary beverages, your blood sugar spikes almost immediately.  It spikes very high, too.  Your body responds by secreting high levels of insulin.  This forces your liver to begin the immediate process of turning all that extra sugar into fat.  It is the storage of this fat that, over time, becomes extremely detrimental to health.

It is a proven fact that sugar increases your insulin levels, which can lead to not only weight gain, but also high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, premature aging and many more negative side effects.

People who are misinformed will point to the fact that soda is ‘fat free.’  True, it is fat free, but your body will convert that sugar to fat for storage.  The body does not get rid of that excess sugar because it sees it as energy that could be used at a later date.  People who consume large amounts of soda are setting themselves up to be overweight and under nourished.

The soda industry is a huge problem here in the US.  It causes so many health issues and drives up the cost of health care.  It does so by directly causing avoidable health issues such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.  I recommend that my patients never drink soda.  In the rare occasion that they do have it, they should have a small amount.  By the way, I define ‘rare occasion’ as once or twice per year

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