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Most Americans Oppose Soda, Candy Taxes

They say it's not government's role to try to influence what people eat, drink, Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll finds
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A number of states and local governments have proposed such a tax, but they've gone nowhere.

The proposals have popped up in states like Vermont and Texas, big cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in smaller communities. Last year, voters in two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, rejected ballot initiatives that would have levied sugary-drink taxes.

The respondents in the Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll echoed those voters. Besides disliking the taxes, many doubted the potential health benefits -- 51 percent disagreed with the statement, "Sales taxes on candies and sodas would help to reduce obesity." Only 26 percent agreed.

A bigger percentage seemed to have a philosophical opposition to such taxes: Two-thirds agreed with the statement, "It should not be the role of government to influence what we eat and drink to make healthier choices."

Justin Wilson, senior research analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), argued that "people prefer incentives to penalties."

The Washington, D.C.-based CCF opposes soda taxes and other "sin" taxes, saying there's no evidence they would actually help curb the U.S. obesity problem -- and that no single food can be pinpointed as a cause of obesity. The group gets funding from the food industry and "individual consumers," according to its website.

Wilson said government "incentives" could include building more sidewalks and "green spaces" so that Americans, especially kids, can get outside and exercise.

"Creating more green spaces is a perfect role for government," he said.

Wilson was also skeptical that any funds from a soda tax would go to obesity prevention or similar health programs, as advocates like Brownell would like. "The idea that the money would be earmarked like that is ridiculous, because that's not how government works," Wilson said.

Lisa Powell, a professor of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, said there's "robust" evidence that higher prices on sugary drinks mean less consumption.

In a recent research review, Powell and her colleagues found that a 20 percent price hike -- roughly equivalent to the penny-per-ounce tax proposal -- correlated with a 24 percent decline in people's sugary drink intake, on average.

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