At the risk of being mistaken for a tool of soft-drink industry, or worse yet, a Libertarian, I am jumping once again into the debate over government action to curb our consumption of sugary beverages. (Well, someone’s consumption; I don’t touch the stuff anymore. I don’t believe anyone should.)
I stated my position a month ago, in response to calls by New York City officials for a ban on the use of food stamps to purchase soda-pop. Another East Coast official, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, has been pressing for a soda-pop tax to discourage consumption and thus combat obesity.
My position is that government should butt out. I’m not a big fan of taking symbolic action in response to a real crisis.
A new socio-economic study has increased my conviction that taxing or even banning soda-pop would do nothing to improve America’s collective weight problem. Indeed, it would be a dangerous distraction and waste of time.
In “The Socio-Economic Causes of Obesity,” researchers Charles L. Baum and Shin-Yi Chou address the question of why obesity has become epidemic in the U.S. in the last 30 years. They examined changes in food prices, physical activity at work, restaurant prevalence, urbanization, employment, and cigarette smoking in the period 1979-1997.
They found that the biggest single factor contributing to weight gain is the decline in cigarette smoking. According to Baum and Chou, that decline accounts for a whopping two-percent of our national weight gain.
Other factors each account for even a smaller share of the problem.
What we have here, folks, is a problem than can’t be solved by attacking a single food or beverage. As Baum puts it in an op-ed published yesterday at Philly.com, “the dynamics of obesity are far more complex than the soda critics suggest.”
Baum and Chou calculated that “fast-food prices, grocery prices, and restaurant prevalence were all statistically insignificant” factors in Americans’ weight increase. That means that a stronger case can be made for cutting cigarette taxes than increasing soda-pop taxes as a way of fighting obesity.
I think their calculations and data should be cross-checked by other researches, and more studies like this should be done. In the meantime, I remain convinced that soda-pop taxes are pointless — except, perhaps, as a way to raise revenue.
No doubt ambitious politicians and assorted busy-bodies will go on calling for such taxes, or other government action, against this whipping-boy de jour. As I have said before, I won’t shed a tear for the demise of Coke or Pepsi or any other soft-drink companies. I believe I’m healthier for avoiding their products.
I may be thinner, too, but not merely, or even mainly, because I gave up sugary drinks.
There’s a long list of foods I gave up.
If any East Coast officials want the list, send me an email.
What happened to me is that in a very diligent effort to follow the Conventional Wisdom regarding diet and exercise I ended up about 100 pounds over weight. I do not frequent fast food restaurants nor do I drink soda. I ate a vegetarian diet for many years, a lot of very healthy grains, very low fat, lots of exercise. Playing with less or more calories trying to take weight off, only to end up gaining.
So I wonder what percentage of the collective American weight gain is due to the pyramid?
Christina Berg says
Your comment interested me, the problem with the government defining healthy and not healthy is that its not always correct, for instance is an anti-oxidant rich green tea with a 1/2 teaspoon of honey healthier than concentrated grape juice and a chocolate milkshake, if you sympathize with the mayor, it makes it look ridiculous given the latter has more fat, and perhaps 4x the sugar, is vitamin water junk then since it has vitamins , sure most americans don’t need extra vitamins and a sugar drink is wasted calories, but where does it lead, the second issue is that certain products are actually not healthy but appear, a granola bar may have barely an ounce of fiber, take for instance a vegetarian, if he or she wants to make a vegan taco and purchases tortilla and cheese , sure its fatty but he or she is not including meat, so are chips junk, such things lead mor questions and answers, the answer is proper allocation of calories.
Dave Bastin says
I just finished the Why We Get Fat book by Gary Taubes you mentioned started your low carb journey. I am a believer! I know it is not true, but when I read Atkins I always felt he was trying to sell me one of his products. Gary’s book was an eye opener. As I read it I felt like he was telling me the truth and I could not understand how all of those in the medical establishment could be so wrong for so many years. Do you think doctors will be willing to change their advice to low carb methods? I know mine has not changed his opinion yet.
Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t the Atkins Co. sold after his death to some huge conglomerate? And yes, now they are all about pushing the bars and shakes and so forth. Money, money, money. No different from Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, etc. I admit I did try the Atkins bars and some of the shakes when I began LCing in July of 2008, but dropped them all because they caused stalls and plateaus and I felt they were highly overpriced.
When I tried the original Atkins plan, back in the 70’s, when he was really being criticized right and left, there were no products being pushed, just his ideas and doctrine which, as we now know, was right on target. My life, at that time, was far too hectic and complicated to follow the Atkins plan properly and I didn’t stick with it long enough to be successful. And, of course, no internet back then and no support from fellow travelers such as Jim!