The United States should Implement a Federal Sugar Tax

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This is my article from issue #7 of 2017 in Cupertino High School’s newspaper, The Prospector

America is currently facing an obesity epidemic. According to the Center for Disease Control, 36.5% of U.S. adults are obese. Not only is obesity a precursor for life-threatening afflictions, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, but it also accounts for a significant portion of American health spending. In 2008, the estimated medical cost for obesity in the United States was $147 billion and the average additional cost for people with obesity in comparison to those without it was a whopping $1,439.

While most of the public pins the blame for this crisis on high-fat, high-calorie diets, recent publications say otherwise. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association attributes the growing obesity problem to sugar, not fat. Research also points towards the fact that more and more of the average American’s diet is composed of processed foods, such as sugary breakfast cereals, microwaved meals, and soft drinks.

In order to address the growing problem of sugar consumption, the United States government should pass legislature to add an excise tax to all items containing unreasonable quantities of sugar, such as sodas and junk foods. Even in rich, well educated areas, such as the city of Berkeley, researchers were surprised to find that a sugar tax can have profound impacts. Mexico passed a similar tax in 2014 which drastically reduced the consumption of sugary beverages, especially among the economically disadvantaged. The United Kingdom and Ireland will be implementing similar policies in the next few months.

The money collected from the tax can then be utilized to fund public initiatives. Currently, Philadelphia uses their sugar tax revenue to fund pre-kindergarten programs and public development projects. However, this particular tax has faced significant corporate backlash. While public health interest groups, such as the American Medical Association and American Heart Association, vocally support the tax, the soda giant funded American Beverage Association spent $10.6 million in persuading the general populace to vote against it. Moreover, companies, such as Pepsi, laid off employees in Philadelphia, pinning the blame onto the sugar tax.

Taxes in the past for similar reasons have met with conflict as well. The tobacco tax was initially faced with criticism by the tobacco industry. In the end, the tax prevailed. Today, all research points to the fact that the tobacco tax has directly led to a decrease in smoking rates. One study after the Obama era cigarette federal tax concluded that every ten percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes, overall youth smoking rates drop approximately seven percent. This phenomenon follows the economic principle of elasticity: as a tax on a good rises, the amount of that good sold falls. This concept can be transferred to the idea of a sugar tax as well. The benefits from the tobacco tax are likely to run parallel with the pros of a nationwide sugar tax. Obesity rates would decrease as the average American sugar intake is likely to drop. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that a sugar tax on soda alone could generate upwards of $14.9 billion in the first year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a three cent per ounce soda tax would bring in over $24 in revenue in four years. This money can be reinvested to pay for health needs such as obesity prevention, nutrition education, and public health services.

The United States should not give way to big businesses and place the lives of its citizens on the line. This self-fulfilling cycle of collected tax revenue and funneling it into public health programs will ultimately better the health of the American people and ensure a brighter future by keeping severe sugar-caused illnesses at bay.