Yesterday, FoodFacts.com noted that the New York State Supreme Court upheld the ruling against the mayor’s proposed ban on sugar-sweetened beverages. The court’s four-judge panel was unanimous in its decision that the New York Board of Health and Mental Hygiene “violated the state principle of separation of powers” with the proposed ban. Many other states were waiting on the Court’s decision with great interest, as their legislatures pondered the introduction of similar bans. The hope for legislation like this is that it would eventually have a positive effect on curtailing and perhaps, even reversing the obesity crisis.
So now that New York won’t be banning the sale of large-sized sugar-sweetened beverages, there are other courses of action for the government to consider – one of them being a federal tax on sugary beverages. Today we learned of a joint study from researchers at RTI International, Duke University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, exploring such a tax.
The study, published online in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, found that a half-cent per ounce increase in sugar-sweetened beverage prices, which adds up to about ten cents on a typical 20-ounce bottle of soda, could reduce total calories from the 23 foods and beverages examined under the study. Unfortunately, researchers also found that a reduction in consumption of sugary beverages due to a tax would most likely lead consumers to substitute those beverage calories by increasing their calorie, salt and fat intake from untaxed foods and beverages.
To conduct the study, researchers used data on household food purchases from the 2006 Nielsen Homescan panel, a large national consumer panel maintained by the Nielsen Company. Families in the panel are provided with a handheld scanner and instructed to scan the Universal Product Code (UPC) of products they purchased at retail outlets, record purchase quantities and coupons used and identify the retailer that the product was purchased from. Researchers noted that while levying a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages may seem similar to using taxes to curb smoking habits in the population, it isn’t the same thing. In the case of beverages, consumers can simply substitute an untaxed food item for the taxed beverage. It’s also important to consider that there are many other ways to promote healthy eating and reduce nutrition-related chronic disease.
FoodFacts.com thinks that this study, and others like it, are interesting food for thought regarding our country’s approach to tackling the obesity crisis. Bans on large-sized sugar-sweetened beverages and taxes on sugary drinks might serve to curb the excessive sugar consumption that’s rampant in our population. What it doesn’t serve to do is to recognize the other end of that same problem. The foods and beverages will still be out there on our grocery shelves, in our fast food chains and our smaller food retailers. And those foods and beverages will still contain the excessive amounts of sugar that they contain now. Until processed food products contain less added sugars, we’ll still have a problem in the population, even if proposed regulations might make the problem a little smaller. Educating consumers and promoting nutritional awareness is still the best method of empowering the population and creating real, positive change. Let’s all continue to share our awareness within our own networks. We can all play an important role in reversing the worldwide trend of obesity.