We all know healthy living largely entails foregoing junk foods
that are high in calories, sugar, and saturated fats. We also know a large amount of the population has a very difficult time “just saying no” to temptation. But should the government step in once more to try to save us from ourselves? Health advocates seem to think so, as they want states and cities to tax unhealthy foods, specifically sodas and sugary noncarbonated drinks.
Supporters of the move state that such taxation would not only curb the consumption of unhealthy food, but it would also generate billions of dollars each year. Since our country’s eating habits are largely to blame for much of our nation’s heart disease, diabetes and certain kinds of cancer, food columnist Bittman believes, “That money could be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.”
Do Americans have the right to eat what they choose without fear of Big Government?
Obviously, something needs to be done to change America's eating habits. We rely entirely too much on processed food and fatty animal products while relegating fruits and vegetables lower down the list. Getting and maintaining a healthy body requires a change in thinking and priorities, no doubt. The problem is many Americans are growing tired of the government doing our thinking for us.
Bittman reminds us that the average American drinks 44.7 gallons of soda each year, including diet soda. Noncarbonated sweetened beverages account for 17 gallons a person per year. Taxing soda could help reverse the growing obesity trend that has doubled in the past 30 years for adults and tripled for children. The CDC tells us obesity-related health care costs are more than $100 billion a year.
Opponents argue that taxing people for their choices is simply not fair. Americans have the right to eat what ever they choose whether it be junk food or organic produce. The poorest in our country would end up paying more in the long run because a higher percentage of their income goes to food.
Bittman also stated, “The way we discourage smoking and continue to discourage smoking is we tax cigarettes–a lot in some states–and force the tobacco companies to contribute money to anti-smoking programs. Now if we tax soda and junk food similarly, and began a huge public health campaign that said, ‘This is the way we ought to eat’ we might see similar results.”
More pros and cons of soda taxation.
Right now at least 30 cities and states are considering taxes on sugar sweetened beverages and soda in the form of excise taxes, levied before purchase. Lisa Powell, a senior research scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says, “Excise taxes have the benefit of being incorporated into the shelf price, and that's where consumers make their purchasing decisions. And, as per unit taxes, they avoid volume discounts and are ultimately more effective in raising prices, so they have a greater impact.”
Relying on taxes to decrease the sales of junk food is not ideal for many reasons. In addition to arguments, there will be job losses at soda plants and distributorships. The counter argument is that ultimately, cheaper healthy staples, better health and lower healthcare costs will serve as reimbursement.
Currently our society is profiting from the foods that are literally making us sick. The money from taxation could be used for community gyms, swimming pools and other activity-based resources. Some even hope the United States could regain a level of prestige similar to the way the anti-smoking campaign portrayed us as a world leader in combating lifestyle diseases. By doing away with the Standard American diet, America could very well set a new standard for the rest of the world to follow.
But it will come at a cost. Will the cost be increased taxes, our basic freedom to choose, or both?