A First Step to Stop Subsidizing Obesity and Prediabetes

AMA Meeting Addresses Issues with Current Food Stamp Program

The AMA is recommending that sugar-sweetened beverages be removed from the food stamp program, SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program). The evidence is mounting that sugary beverages are contributing to obesity, as well as prediabetes and diabetes. The action recommended by the AMA last month is a move in the right direction to reduce obesity and decrease government spending on unhealthy habits that may increase disease in America.

Strong Link Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Disease

Research is now starting to show a real connection between sugary drinks and major disease and death. One large study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows in 2010 alone 132,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 cardiovascular deaths, and 6000 cancer deaths throughout the world could be attributed to sugary drinks.

Subsidizing Disease?

Most people wouldn’t want their hard earned tax dollars to go towards buying people cigarettes.  Cigarettes are a luxury item. More importantly, they are linked to lung cancer, a deadly and costly disease.  Are today’s tax dollars going towards similar, deadly, luxury items?

The government currently puts out $1-$1.2 billion dollars every year to buy soda for needy families participating in SNAP.  This subsidy is likely to result in even more tax payer dollars going towards health care costs as a result of the detrimental effects of consuming these beverages. In fact, research has shown 58% of the beverages purchased through food assistance programs are full of added sugar.

Are Tax Payers Dollars Contributing to Obesity

With an estimated 40% children’s calories today coming from empty calories (sugary beverages top the list), action is overdue. This issue highlights a greater issue. Is it possible the way we subsidize in the US could be considered a risk factor for obesity. Not only do we subsidize the billion in spending on sugary drinks each year, but we spend up to $10 billion (that’s with a b) a year in corn subsidies to make the high fructose corn syrup in these drinks cheaper. Properly allocating these dollars seems like a good place to start to tackle the obesity epidemic in America.

Another Step in the Fight Against Obesity

Some states are starting to consider a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.  A policy brief from the Yale Rudd Center explored the possibility that a one cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages could decrease consumption.  In this brief they also highlight research that estimates this kind of tax could translate into a 150 calorie decrease per person each day as well as a decrease in diabetes and heart attack risk. They also point out that this type of tax could generate $13 billion a year in revenue.

Subsidizing Health

The  real issue is not the billions that are spent on subsidizing sugar drinks or the billions that could be made by taxing them. It is really about the trillions of dollars spent every year on health care. The money spent today needs to be put towards programs to help decrease medical spending in the future and improve quality of life. I’m sure we could find a better use for the $1.2 billion dollars we are currently spending to give people free access to sugary beverages.  For example, we could use that money to teach people about the dangers of sugary beverages and help them to avoid obesity, diabetes and prediabetes.

References

http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2013/2013-06-19-new-ama-policy-annual-meeting.page

http://newsroom.heart.org/news/180-000-deaths-worldwide-may-be-associated-with-sugary-soft-drinks?preview=196a

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sugary-drinks-fact-sheet/

http://farm.ewg.org/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=corn

http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/resources/upload/docs/what/reports/Rudd_Policy_Brief_Sugar_Sweetened_Beverage_Taxes.pdf

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