Soda is lousy for us—and we should all be drinking less. A soda tax is just smart.
I am not the food police. As a dietitian, I don't believe eliminating unhealthy foods is realistic or effective. But I do believe that it's all about changing our environment. That means making healthy choices easy and attractive—and unhealthy choices just a little bit harder.
That's the idea behind the soda tax. The controversial concept is to tax manufacturers or distributors of soda and other sugary beverages (like sports drinks and energy drinks), who would then pass along the cost to the consumer in the form of higher prices. It was approved in Berkeley, California and is being pitched in other U.S. cities as well. There's heated debate on both sides of the issue for sure, but here's why I think it makes sense:
Sugary drinks are a known health risk. I think we can all agree that's soda isn't a nutritional superstar. It does nothing for the body except provide calories in the form of sugar. There are zero health benefits to soda, only potential health risks like increasing the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Soda and sugary drinks are now the number-one source of added sugar in the diet!
The money could be put to good use. Money raised from soda taxes could be directed toward programs that make people's lives healthier. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a federal tax of just one cent for every 12 ounces of soda would raise $1.5 billion a year. That money could be put toward healthier school meals, community playgrounds and gardens, and programs to counter the obesity epidemic.
It's helping in other places. When Mexico taxed sugary drinks (and junk food!) in 2013, consumption of soda declined, particularly among the poorest consumers. That's important, since poverty makes people more vulnerable to obesity.
It worked with cigarettes. Though some people say a soda tax wouldn't make an impact, it certainly did with cigarettes. Taxes truly did drive down rates of smoking—especially among young people. A soda tax could do the same for kids and especially teens, who are heavy consumers of soft drinks.
The tax isn't a punishment for drinking soda, and it doesn't take the choice away. But it may just make people think twice about choosing it—or buy it less frequently. And that could have major and lasting public health benefits.
What do you think: Would YOU support a soda tax?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.