Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | April 12, 2016

Sugar Wars

There’s a proposal in Philadelphia to tax sugar, specifically sugar in beverages like soda, sweetened iced tea, energy drinks, and other sugary beverages, and I know you’ll be shocked — shocked! — to hear that there’s a robust advertising campaign gearing up against it:

The American Beverage Association, a national trade group, has been running radio ads since March calling it a “grocery tax on the kind of drinks we buy for our family.”

I’ve heard the radio commercials: a woman’s voice (I’m pretty sure she’s supposed to sound “black”) complaining about how much the new tax will add to her grocery bill. To which I respond, Cut me a break! No one needs soda, or other sweetened drinks. It’s an expensive luxury that’s not even good for you, as I tell my patients with diabetes, many of whom are obese, over and over and over.

We’ve been telling parents for years that children should only drink water and milk. Even juice has been a no-no for quite some time now. But that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from getting their children addicted (yes, I’m using that word on purpose) to sugary drinks.

What’s really happening here?

Sugar in large quantities is bad for you. No, it doesn’t make kids hyper, but it  does cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar, insulin spikes, and weight gain, which in turn contributes to obesity, heart disease, and in susceptible individuals, diabetes. It can also cause cravings, leading to more sugar consumption, and so on around and around in a vicious cycle. Sugary beverages are one of the major sources of excess sugar in the American diet, so anything that results in less consumption of them stands a pretty good chance of being good for health.

Ah, but lowering consumption of something means decreased revenue from its sales. You’d better believe the beverage manufacturers of Big Sugar are howling bloody murder at Philly’s proposed 3 cents per ounce levy. Hence the ad blitz.

Interestingly, though, Philly isn’t touting this as a nanny state scheme to get people to drink less sugar. That’s more of a desirable side effect. They’re earmarking the tax revenues to pay for universal Pre-Kindergarten, which is another intervention shown to improve school achievement, especially in children from impoverished backgrounds. Who could argue against helping out the kiddies?

Here’s my take: Sugar is just as bad for you as tobacco. No one seems to have any trouble with steep tobacco taxes, which are just as regressive as the sugar tax; the higher your educational/socioeconomic class, the less likely you are to smoke OR be obese. So if you want to keep damaging your health by swigging down gallons of sugar water, the least you can do is give back to your community. You’ll be “taking” from them plenty as your diabetes gets worse and you start having heart attacks and strokes. Then again, all you have to do is make do with water. More money in your pocket and better health as well. The ultimate win-win.

All we have to do is stand up to Big Sugar like we eventually did to Big Tobacco. They’re killing us just as surely.



  1. I would like to see the same attack against salt — especially in tinned and convenience foods. As an elderly male with high blood pressure living alone who hates to cook, I primarily sustain myself on such “ready to eat” foods. Yet due to the salt content, my doctor is having a hard time keeping my blood pressure under control. Even Corn Flakes has 550-mg per 100-g of sodium.

  2. My daughter’s dentist has a plastic soda bottle containing the amount of cane sugar that is the drink, to impress on kids that it’s too much sugar to soak your teeth in all the time. I think it needs to contain corn syrup, though, since that’s what is really used, but whatever.). Sugar is just a terrible threat to children’s teeth. All fillings eventually need to be made bigger until the tooth is no longer viable, so the name of the game really is prevention.

  3. I think that the sugar tax in Philadelphia is more about generating money than about any proposed health benefits. I also don’t think people who live near no grocery stores will change their health habits so easily, I could be wrong though and am eager to be proven so in this regard. I mean, people still flock in droves to buy their cigarettes despite the increasing taxes on them.

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