Stop Subsidizing Soda Purchases
By Ken Walker-
Everyone who appreciates crucial timing likely did a double take last week when two significant events occurred on the same day.
First, the American Medical Association called for obesity to be treated as a disease.
In addition, 18 big-city mayors called for a ban in food-stamp recipients being allowed to use those benefits to purchase soda and other sugary drinks.
While the disease declaration has wide-ranging implications, I’m more concerned with the mayors’ call to halt the government’s subsidizing of soft drinks. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the link between our nation’s struggles with weight and its consumption of sugary drinks is failing to recognize the obvious.
In his book, Fat Chance, Dr. Robert Lustig points out the parallel between our obesity problems and a doubling of fructose consumption the past three decades. A recent survey estimates that 50 percent of Americans drink at least one can of sugared soda daily.
According to Dr. Kara Davis (whose latest book I edited), since its introduction in the 1960s the use of high fructose corn syrup has spread so widely that it constitutes about 20 percent of total daily carbohydrate intake in the average U.S. diet.
“Our body weight has climbed alongside this increased consumption,” she says. “We abound with foods that do not have the capacity to protect us against diseases; they may contribute to them, (as we consume) quantities of foods…that are highly processed, made of refined grains, contain unhealthy fats and added sugars, contain too much sodium, and have excessive calories.”
No doubt critics will attack New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (whose attempt to ban supersized soft drinks there has been sidetracked in court) and others as heavy-handed, Nanny State action.
Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Association immediately claimed that such beverages shouldn’t be singled out as a cause of obesity, saying it is a complex health condition that affects people of all income levels.
I wouldn’t argue that point, since obesity problems aren’t limited to the United States. The World Health Organization recently released facts about obesity nearly doubling worldwide since 1980. More than 500 million adults are obese, with a total of 1.4 billion who are overweight.
Still, taxpayers are funding the food stamps that go to buy the soft drinks and other sugar-laden beverages that fatten people’s waistlines. Since excess weight leads to a succession of health problems, we have every right to say, “Wait a minute.”
Food stamp recipients are already prohibited from using them to buy alcohol, cigarettes, hot food and other items. A common-sense approach would place limits on the purchase of sugary drinks as well.
Making a Statement
The CBS story on the mayors’ call for curtailing food stamp purchases of soft drinks also cited opponents saying doing so might discourage people from getting the subsidies.
I doubt that. Though they may have to scratch a little harder, food stamp limits haven’t stopped smokers. Those who are determined to continue picking up soft drinks aren’t likely to let such limitations stop them, either.
Yet such a ban makes an important statement. Not only would it acknowledge the link between sugary drinks and obesity, it would place Uncle Sam on record as saying, “You can buy this stuff if you want, but we won’t help you do it.”
A Soda Tax
Enacting wise steps to reduce the nation’s soft-drink consumption won’t come easily or quickly. Yet if we are serious about attacking the crisis that has seen a tripling of obesity among children the past three decades, we have to get started.
In our book, Winning the Food Fight, Steve Willis calls for several steps to particularly address the crisis among children, including a soda tax. He notes that soft drinks are helping cause the same kind of national health crisis as cigarettes.
“It is not fair to those of us who have decided to take care of our bodies to make us pay higher taxes for increased health care programs,” he says. “Tobacco companies were forced to pay into our system for all the damage they have done to our national health. It is high time we expected soda companies to do the same.”
Yes it is.