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Yale Professor Adds Voice For Tax On Sugared Drinks

ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER

April 09, 2009

Imposing a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could substantially reduce consumption, help prevent obesity and diabetes, and raise money to fund public health programs, Yale Professor Kelly Brownell and New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden argue in an upcoming opinion article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Brownell and Frieden wrote that sugar-sweetened beverages "may be the single-largest driver of the obesity epidemic," and suggested that taxing sugared beverages could work in the same way that taxing tobacco has played a role in reducing consumption and becoming "a key tool in efforts to improve health."

Frieden and Brownell, the director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, note that soda has become more affordable in the past two decades while fruits and vegetables have become more costly, and suggest that revenue raised from taxing sugared drinks could be used to subsidize healthful foods. A penny-per-ounce tax on sugared drinks could cut consumption by more than 10 percent while raising tax money an estimated $1.2 billion in New York state, they wrote.

"It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task," they wrote.

The American Beverage Association, a trade group that opposes the proposal, argued that it would have no effect on obesity and amounts to a "hapless" tax scheme that consumers would not accept.

"We agree that obesity is a serious and complex problem," the association said in a statement. "It defies both science and common sense, however, to think singling out one product as a unique contributor to obesity will make a dent in the problem."

The association argued that what really matters in fighting obesity is balancing calories consumed with those burned.

Taxes on beverages would "inflict serious pain on hard-working families," the association argued. Brownell and Frieden noted such objections in their article, but wrote that "the poor are disproportionately affected by diet-related diseases and would derive the greatest benefit from reduced consumption."

New York Gov. David Paterson recently proposed an 18 percent tax on sugared drinks in his budget, but withdrew the proposal last month, along with nearly $1 billion in other proposed tax hikes, after more federal funding became available to the state.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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