The health advocates gathered in Washington yesterday to make their case for taxing groceries to pay for health reform. They did so by making often tenuous links between one food or beverage and the growth in obesity.
As we wrote yesterday, the compendium of science makes one thing perfectly clear: all calories count when it comes to weight, regardless of the food source. The latest reinforcement of this principle comes from a study by a Harvard researcher published in the New England Journal of Medicine and funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Yet advocates continue to argue that soft drinks are a unique contributor to obesity. At a CDC summit yesterday, Director Thomas Frieden cited a Health Affairs report from this week that found obesity-related conditions now account for 9.1 percent of all medical spending. And since 1998, the obesity rate has risen 37 percent, according to Health Affairs.
Interesting. Since 1998, the sale of soft drinks has declined by 9 percent. So the data shows that soft drinks are clearly not a unique contributor to obesity since obesity rates are climbing, while soft drink sales are dropping over the past decade (largely because our companies make such a wide range of beverages now.) Furthermore, according to CDC data, West Virginia and Arkansas have the fifth and sixth highest obesity rates in the nation. They're also two states with unique excise taxes on soda.
Not only is there no smoking gun on a unique tie between soft drinks and obesity, there's no bullets in the gun. Heck, there's not even a gun, except maybe a toy one. This is why advocates reach back three decades for data - to contort the numbers to meet their advocacy goals. They don't speak in the reality of the here and now. That's disappointing.
Though, we do give Director Frieden credit for conceding yesterday that he was not speaking for the administration, rather expressing his own personal opinions carried with him from New York.
Does regular soda have calories? Yes. But so do nearly all foods. Clearly people are getting the vast majority of their calories from foods other than soft drinks. And importantly, they're not burning off nearly as many calories as they consume.
The data and the science simply don't support government reaching into the family shopping cart to tax non-alcoholic beverages, or any other foods for that matter, on a drummed up charge of combating obesity. The effort won't work. And people view it as an over-reach when government tries to tell them what to eat or drink.
Plus, a beverage tax won't do a thing to improve health care, reduce obesity or raise nearly enough sustainable money to make a dent in the $1 trillion-plus health care reform plans being talked about.
All it will do is cost hard-working families more money at a time when they're already squeezed by this down economy.
We appreciate the CDC director advocating for better health. It's his job and a worthy effort. We, too, support better health in America -- and we're doing our part by creating a bevy of beverages of all calories and sizes, as well as implementing national School Beverage Guidelines that slash calories in schools.
But the concept of taxing beverages as a means to reduce obesity just won’t work. The proof is in the data. The contemporary data.