Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Sugar Tax as Public Health Policy

Here is a provocative paper published in Health Affairs.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the US obesity and diabetes epidemics. Investigators analyzed the potential impact of a nation-wide,  penny-per-ounce excise tax on these drinks. The tax would reduce consumption of sweetened beverages by 15 percent among adults ages 25-64. Over the period 2010-20, the tax is estimated to prevent 2.4 million diabetes person-years, 95,000 coronary heart events, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 premature deaths, while avoiding more than $17 billion in medical costs. In addition, the beverage tax would generate approximately $13 billion in annual tax revenue and would reduce the adverse health and cost burdens of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Obesity is a conversation topic in the graduate school seminar which I teach. The seminar, aptly titled Contemporary Issues and Controversies in Public Health, generates much discussion, especially on the subject of obesity in the USA. 

The causes of obesity are multiple and include genetic, environmental and dietary factors. The relative contribution of each factor, remains largely unknown, hindering the ability to fully craft and implement evidence based interventions. 

Although a modest tax on sweetened beverages would by no means reverse the obesity epidemic, its potential impact, both financially and from a public health perspective, appears promising.

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