A Soda Tax Will Solve the Obesity Problem? Really?

There is this thing that Americans love to do. We love to take a complex, multi-faceted issue and attribute a simple solution to address it. For some reason, we seem particularly found of doing this in the arena of health and diet. In theory, this sounds great. A simple solution is one that can be quickly comprehended and easily acted upon. But does this work?

I think not.

Let's look at some of our past diet recommendations. First, scientists and health practitioners told us that we were getting fat because we ate too much fat. If we cut out fat, we'd be fine. In response, a slew of products hit the shelves in grocery stores. You could buy anything fat free: cookies, salad dressing, cheese, you name it.

But we stayed fat. In fact, we got fatter. Turns out those products with less fat had loads of sugar and left people unsatisfied, ultimately reaching for more.

Hmm... what should the next silver bullet be?

We decided it wasn't fat, but carbs that were making us fat. Soon potatoes became the number one diet enemy. People embraced the low carb diet with gusto, despite dehydration, bad breath, and constipation. As a nation, though, we remained fat. In fact, we got fatter.

And now the CDC has reported that the medical costs associated with treating obesity related diseases in this country reached a high of $147 billion in 2008. The study also revealed that obese people spent 42% more on medical care than people of normal weight in 2006, a $1,429 difference.

What to do?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Frieden, proposed a soda tax, saying that soda "may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic."

Really? The single largest driver? So if we just get this soda tax past we will most certainly be on the way to recovery? Obesity will largely be addressed? I think this is may be one of the craziest things I've heard in quite some time.

Granted, I understand that drinking loads of soda can pack on the pounds. A 12 oz. soda has 150 calories and 40-50 grams of high fructose corn syrup, which is equal to 10 teaspoons of sugar. If you are truly addicted to coke and consume 36 oz of coke per day, you are taking in 600 empty, liquid calories. These calories would easily translate into weight gain over time.

I also understand that the enormous amounts of sugar in these beverages contribute to development of Type II diabetes, which is at epidemic levels in America. But let's think about this logically.

The 34% of Americans who are obese are that way for a host of reasons. We don't move our bodies enough. We sit at work, and at home, and in our cars for the majority of our waking hours. We do not eat healthy foods, nor do we eat in moderation. We do not teach our children good dietary habits. We do not sleep enough. We do not exercise. Many of us barely ever walk anywhere.

Seems to me we have a multi-faceted problem. Tax soda? I really don't mind the idea. Clearly, drinking too much soda is not good for one's health. Clearly, the government needs money to fund, well, just about anything as well. If they are going to tax my wine, then go ahead and tax soda. But don't turn soda into the latest silver bullet. There just isn't one.

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