SODA TAX SOUNDS SWEET, BUT IT WOULDN’T RE­ALLY SOLVE PROB­LEM

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - OPINION -

Are­cent Kansas City Star ed­i­to­rial that fa­vored a tax on su­gar-sweet­ened bev­er­ages be­gan with, “We’re all too fat and Kansas is broke.” You can’t ar­gue with that. But as a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian who has been fol­low­ing both nutri­tion in Kansas and the de­bate over sim­i­lar taxes in other states, I can def­i­nitely say a tax won’t help obe­sity, and clos­ing a bud­get gap by tax­ing food is es­pe­cially dis­taste­ful. Let’s deal first with what I know for sure. De­spite what pro-tax ad­vo­cates de­clare as fact, there is no real ev­i­dence that the kind of tax be­ing pro­posed here would make the slight­est dif­fer­ence in body mass in­dex, a mea­sure of obe­sity. And blam­ing soda for obe­sity is like blam­ing the TV re­mote con­trol — it may con­trib­ute to weight gain if you spend all your free time on the couch, but it’s not the cause. There is no sin­gle cause for obe­sity, and the way to ad­dress weight con­trol is eat­ing bal­anced, healthy meals, mod­er­a­tion and ex­er­cise. This is ex­actly what first lady Michelle Obama and Sur­geon Gen­eral Regina Ben­jamin said in Jan­uary when they an­nounced plans to help Amer­i­cans lead health­ier lives through “bet­ter nutri­tion, reg­u­lar phys­i­cal ex­er­cise and im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ties to sup­port healthy choices.” In a place like Kansas City, fa­mous for great food, sup­port­ing healthy choices means teach­ing, not tax­ing. Af­ter all, even at $6 a pack, plenty of peo­ple still smoke. Most peo­ple know this is re­ally about clos­ing the state bud­get gap. States all over the coun­try are fac­ing tight bud­gets, but fam­ily bud­gets are tight, too, and I’m just not sure we should solve the deficit at the gro­cery check­out counter. A tax on su­gar-sweet­ened bev­er­ages does not just mean soda, it also means juice, fla­vored wa­ters, tea, en­ergy drinks and sports drinks. In the past, small store own­ers who could not keep track of which prod­ucts were taxed and which ones weren’t just taxed ev­ery­thing to be safe. Where does it stop? How much is enough? If we tax soda, why not tax cook­ies and cakes? How far do we want to go? From the look of things this is just the beginning. Many of the same peo­ple push­ing for a tax on su­gar-sweet­ened bev­er­ages to­day al­ready are talk­ing about a tax on pizza and in New York have in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that levies fines on restau­rants for cook­ing with salt. I’m not sure how to solve the bud­get short­fall, but it is clear we have a big prob­lem with obe­sity in Kansas, and the so­lu­tion will emerge from all of us work­ing to­gether. State gov­ern­ment must work with the med­i­cal and health com­mu­ni­ties — in­clud­ing di­eti­tians — Kansas busi­nesses and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions to help change the way peo­ple think about food and ex­er­cise. One good model for work­ing to­gether may be the Al­liance for a Health­ier Gen­er­a­tion — a joint ini­tia­tive of the William J. Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion — which has been work­ing with the Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion since 2004 to re­move full-calo­rie soft drinks from schools na­tion­wide and re­place them with lower-calo­rie, smaller-por­tion bev­er­ages. Last month, for­mer Pres­i­dent Clin­ton and the al­liance an­nounced an 88 per­cent de­crease in to­tal calo­ries con­tained in all bev­er­ages shipped to schools and a 95 per­cent re­duc­tion in ship­ments of fullcalo­rie soft drinks to schools. This is just the beginning, but it demon­strates the power of part­ner­ship, and no tax can ever do that. Diane Green­leaf is a reg­is­tered and li­censed di­eti­tian, a mem­ber of the Kansas Gov­er­nor’s Coun­cil on Fit­ness and the Kansas Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion, and a con­sul­tant to the Coca-Cola Co. She lives in Wi­chita.

Green­leaf

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