Should Food Prices Reflect Health Priorities?

As noted yesterday in When Costs Rise, Sales of Unhealthful Foods Drop, so-called sin taxes on unhealthful foods may help stem America’s obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Facing critical budget deficits, some city and state legislators are embracing the idea. Earlier this month, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a tax on soda purchases, while Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter last month signed a bill to tax candy and soda.

“State-level taxes exist on soda sold in grocery stores and vending machines in 34 and 39 states, respectively, and the mean taxes, currently applied for revenue generation, range from 3% to 4%,” write San Francisco Department of Public Health officials Mitchell H. Katz, MD, and Rajiv Bhatia, MD, in an editorial published in Monday’s edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

But there’s not much evidence to support a link between such modest surcharges and changes in consumer behavior, they note.

“More substantial surcharges may decrease the consumption of sweetened beverages and, equally important, increase the consumption of more healthful alternatives,” write Drs. Katz and Bhatia.

The revenues cities and states collect “could be used to increase awareness about the harm of sugar-sweetened beverages and fund structural interventions, such as creating water stations in schools,” they add. “Copying a successful tactic of anti-tobacco crusaders, the funds also could be used to counter the lavish advertising of soda and junk food or for ‘marketing’ ordinary tap water.

“In the end,” they conclude, “putting our money where our mouth is means aligning our economic incentives so that we always serve up the healthful choice.”  

For Your Organic Bookshelf: Suicide by Sugar: A Startling Look at Our #1 National Addiction

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  • Jerry  March 15, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    It is my belief that the American people need to get off

    the couch and get back to nature. I do not believe

    taxing soda and pizza will solve the problem of beeing

    lazy. For years it has been okay to set on our butts

    playing games, watching tv, etc. and know everyone is

    concerned about the number of fat people in America. If

    the government would get out of our lives and do there

    jobs and let the parents do theres, put God back in

    school and running our government a lot of problems

    would be solved.

  • Nicole  March 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    AMEN!!! I couldn’t agree more with how Jerry put it…I second that.

  • Felipe  March 18, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Jerry and Nicole, I do not agree with you on all statements except one. That is, the topic of people getting more involved with nature. Many of us have lost touch with nature and what it provides.

    That being said, Sin Tax on soda can be beneficial. I don’t think such a small tax will deter someone from drinking soda, but it would bring in the revenue to fund programs that can educate citizens on healthy nutrition, in turn deterring future drinking of soda in excess. These funds should not be given to government entities such as the Department of Human Services. They should be given out as grants to NGO’s. Programs such as those that teach kids and their families how to eat well or how to grow their own food would be good ways to spend the money.

    It’s not as much a problem with being lazy as it is that as a society we’ve become more sedentary in nature and more reliant on a food system that wasn’t intended for human health. Our work is more sedentary, our schools have become more sedentary. This is not an excuse, because overall we do spend less time being physically active now than we ever have in our history. It is to say that this combined by bad food choice is a major problem.

    It is my belief and that of many others that the link lies within the change of the food system. (some will go as far as the beginning of the agricultural revolution) The introduction of chemicals, biotechnology and processing systems of foods have contributed enormously to the obesity epidemic and current health epidemic we encounter today.

    As far as putting “god” into the classroom, this has nothing to do with physical health. You cannot quantify it nor can you really say that this one element would deter the current problems with our society. A religious pursuit should always be kept outside of the formal education system.

    My last and final note is the government is made by the people and for the people. We’ve chosen as citizens of the United States to remain apathetic to government and the political process. We allow small interest groups the right to run our country and have forgotten the theories around strength in numbers. If many of our citizens would simply step back, see the big picture and have the courage to take action, we would be a different and stronger country.

    I hope you take what I’ve said into consideration and look forward to your response.

    Good Day.

  • Nell  March 18, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I completely agree with Felipe, but would go one step further. The corporations marketed and advertised these products over and over again, so it’s ingrained in our brains to purchase their products. If they would’ve spent a little less in mindless advertising and more on making a better product, I would be siding with the others. But they only mamrketed the “sizzle” and not the “steak”.

    I remember fighting with my children about products they saw during the Saturday morning cartoons. As a little background: my children are 30+ years old and were raised on Sesame Street and Public Television except for Saturday morning cartoons. We fought about how many times we needed to go to McDonald’s so they could “collect” the latest fad items in their happy meals; we fought about General Mills’ sugar cereals, etc. What they saw on commercial TV they wanted, as it marketed directly to them and bypassing the parents. So a tax on soda, fast food, etc. is what the producers of that product should have had years ago!! Maybe then they would’ve considered what they were doing to the youth of this country.

    I also believe that taxing them would show people the true costs of these foods – the obesity and diabetic rates and the health care costs behind them. Yes, it’s really a parent’s issue, but how many outside influences do we have to fight daily??

    Sorry, you hit a real sore spot with me in remembering how I was always the “bad guy” when I wouldn’t allow them to do what the advertisers wanted. Yes, to taxing junk food of all kinds!

  • susan  March 18, 2010 at 10:01 am

    There is a ban on advertising cigarettes on tv — the same should go for junk food: sweetened cereals, sodas, ice creams, etc. Advertising against sugar would be a fabulous idea…

  • Alex  March 19, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Maybe add the sin tax and reduce the price of healthier foods; with some of the money from the sin tax used to introduce community cookery and budgeting classes?

  • Mark  March 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I disagree with most of what Felipe had mentioned. It is the each person’s responsibility to watch what they eat and not government and not taxing more.
    To tax and tax and tax is not constructive.

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