Editorial: Liberal Pediatricians strike again


Liberal Pediatricians and American Heart Association recommend soda tax.  

Soda Cans in Ice

Soda Cans in Ice

Soda taxes are a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  On 25 March of 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Heart Association releases a joint policy statement that recommends in favor of the US Government and States instituting a sugar tax[1].  I have written several articles on this topic to include: Sugar Tax: Would it decrease obesity?, Research: Soda taxes may increase alcohol sales, Soda Taxes Can Change Behavior, and Food Subsidies: Right Choice to Encourage Good Choices?.

If you have not figured it out from the articles above, I am pretty much a libertarian.  I really cannot stand nanny state suggestions that the government should step in to protect the American public from their own poor decisions.  When will folks learn that sin taxes will not stop people from drinking soda?  It will merely make them drink something else and that something else may be worse for them than soda.  

Sugar taxes are nothing more than a sin tax.  The goal of implementing one is to curtail behavior that is less desirable.  For example, we tax alcohol in order to try to both make money from the sales and to reduce usage.  The problem with taxing these items in that sin taxes often hurts those who are more vulnerable and may or may not curtail usage.  People still smoke despite high taxes.  

In this case, AAP is attempting to combat pediatric and adolescent obesity by increasing the prices of the very item they feel causes obesity.  I have no doubt that sugar is the culprit but are we going to tax candy, ice cream, cakes, and juice.  I think not.  I would argue that sports drinks and juice are far more harmful than soda.  Few Americans are deluded into thinking that soda is healthy, but many of our youth think sports drinks will make you more fit and fruit juice is a healthy alternative to soda.  Nothing could further from the truth.  

These two organizations falsely believe that the taxes will reduce sales and the money could go to reduce poverty in low-income communities and to pay for the medical care of those who are less well off.  I commend them for the deluded sense of self-righteousness, but that money will go into the pork barrel to fund someone’s pet projects.  Even if it did make it back to help the poor, government programs rarely assist in lifting people out of poverty.  Instead, they tend to keep them impoverished by handing out the dole.  

In the press release, the authors cited existing taxes on sugary drinks in other countries such as Mexico, and in U.S. cities, including Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland in California; Philadelphia; Seattle; and Boulder, Colorado as evidence to support further action.  I agree these areas have had modest success in discouraging purchase in their areas, but often folks just go to other counties, states, or even countries to get their fix.  Also, many just target soda and miss the mark on other sources of sugar.  

One thing I do agree with the author is reducing access to soda through SNAP and food stamps.  Soda is expensive and a luxury.  It is not required to live.  I would not just limit this to soda, but all processed and frozen foods.  I would prefer my tax dollars to be spent more wisely on whole foods.  Government feeding programs should be based on nutrition standards and pass the common sense test.  I am sure the lobbyists have blocked this time and time again.   

The bottom line:  I am not saying that stronger measures are not needed to curtail the intake of sugary drinks by children and adolescents and I commend the two organizations for making a stand.  I feel the suggestion is short-sighted and misses the mark by being limited to only one source of sugar.  I am concerned that the provided benefit may lead to harm that the organizations may not see because of their myopic view that soda is the cause or obesity.  I am just not sold that a sugary drink tax is an answer to reverse obesity.  I personally think that rewards work better than the stick of taxes.  

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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