2010-03-10 / Features

Taxing Sugared Soft Drinks Cuts Kids’ Obesity, Raises Health, Education $

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Urging Albany legislative leaders to kill two birds with one stone, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a 12- cent-a-can tax on “heavily sweetened” sodas and beverages to raise funds to meet budgetary needs while at the same time attacking a major problem plaguing children: obesity.

The much-needed funds will close a looming $1.9 billion budget gap for health care for the poor, the mayor said, and a $1.4 billion gap in state education “that threatens big setbacks for our children’s schools”.

The mayor delivered his somber message on last Sunday’s weekly talk show. He reminded legislative leaders and Governor David Paterson: “Over the past eight years, New York City has become a recognized leader in improving public health because we’ve focused on solutions that work: reducing smoking, discouraging use of trans fats, requiring caloric labeling in restaurants and working with food companies to reduce the amount of sodium in their products.”

Another growing health problem, he warned, was high sugar intake from drinking soda and other sweetened drinks.

To attack this menace, he urged a penny-per-ounce tax on these beverages, and dedicating the nearly $1 billion revenue raised to education and Medicaid, allowing the city to keep community health services open and keep teachers in the classroom.

Emphasizing the growing menace of using sugar too freely, the mayor pointed out that many people put a teaspoon or two of sugar in their coffee, but a 12- ounce can of soda averages 10 teaspoons of sugar, he warned.

He summed up: “Over the past 30 years, our consumption of these drinks has nearly tripled—and studies show that over the course of a year, for every increase of one can in a child’s daily consumption, his or her risk of obesity goes up by 60 percent. And over the long term, obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other killers.”

Bloomberg noted that making highcontent sugar drinks a little bit more expensive can make a “major dent” in obesity, just as we did in discouraging smoking by raising cigarette taxes.

“Today, compared to eight years ago, there are 350,000 fewer New Yorkers smoking,” Bloomberg pointed out. “Our penny-per-ounce soda proposal would have a similar benefit. It should cut consumption of these unhealthy drinks by at least 10 percent.

Just as raising the cost of smoking benefitted young people most, increasing the cost of soda would have a similar effect, the mayor said. As for adults, reduced soda intake could keep 150,000 more

people from becoming obese, which in

turn would prevent costly hospitalizations and medical procedures.

“No wonder medical professionals statewide back a soda tax,” the mayor noted.

The mayor also emphasized again the need to dedicate the tax proceeds to Medicaid and education. “If we don’t take these steps,” he warned, “the huge cut in state aid to schools in the governor’s proposed budget would translate into 8,500 fewer teachers in New York City this September.”

And, he added, “We’d also see painful cuts to the city’s public hospitals.”

The budget cuts would have similarly bleak affects in suburbs surrounding the city, he said.

“Our suburban and rural neighbors are also looking at severe public health cuts, big teacher layoffs, or big new property tax bills. But a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared drinks would help avoid such harmful consequences.”

The mayor concluded his radio talk saying, “In these tough economic times, easy fixes to our problems are hard to come by. But the soda tax is a fix that just makes sense. It would save lives. It would cut rising healthcare cost. And it would keep thousands of teachers and nurses where they belong: in the classrooms and clinics.”

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