Sugar Regulation Would Help Improve the American Diet
Legislators should make policy that allows the price of food to match up more closely with its actual health costs
March 30, 2012
I support the regulation of sugar if it is part of a comprehensive effort to improve the diet of Americans.
As a primary care doctor, I go to work every day hoping that my advice will help patients make better health decisions. I spend countless hours brainstorming with them about ways to cut calories, decrease salt and sugar intake, and get more physical activity. Unfortunately, although I know my efforts are not wasted, I also know they are not enough.
In the past few decades our country has been engulfed in an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Almost 75 percent of our immense healthcare budget is now dedicated to chronic illness, much of which could be prevented with a few simple lifestyle changes, including eating less sugar. There is now substantial evidence to suggest that increased sugar consumption has contributed to rampant weight gain and diabetes in Americans, and that our brains and bodies are hard-wired to crave the stuff in a way that has frightening parallels to addiction. Between our innate desire for sugar, the subsidies that make it so pervasive in our diet, and the companies that market it to us from infancy onward, our chances of being able to simply take "personal responsibility" for our sugar intake are slim. If we rely on individuals alone to control the sugar in their diets, we will lose the battle against diabetes and obesity in this country.
Many people argue that it is not the government's place to interfere in our diets or limit our food choices. I would counter, however, that the government already has substantial control over what we eat. Through subsidies, trade regulation and taxes, our legislators are knee-deep in the food marketplace. Rather than crafting legislation that results in an overabundance of low-cost, high-sugar foods, why couldn't they make policy that allows the price of food to match up more closely with its actual health costs? Whether that policy takes the form of a soda tax, a cap-and-trade program on sugar, or another innovative solution will ultimately be determined by feasibility and by the guidance of American voters.
For now, I'll keep counseling my patients about their diets, but I hope that someday soon it will be a whole lot easier for them to follow my advice.