Debate Club

Time to Tax Sugary Drinks

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There is no doubt that too much sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks and plain cane or beet sugar, is a prime cause of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and other problems. Federal, state, and local governments, as well as the food industry itself, have a responsibility to inform consumers of the problem and implement measures that get people eating less sugar.

Soda pop and other sugar-based drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet. Given the fact that obesity and diabetes are such expensive diseases to treat, it makes sense for governments to levy taxes on sugar-based drinks, both to raise revenue and to reduce consumption. Many states already tax soda and snack foods, so it's hardly a novel idea. A tax could raise billions of dollars and, depending on the rate, reduce consumption, particularly among minors. Governments could use some of that revenue to fund health-promotion programs, such as the hard-hitting campaigns that New York City is sponsoring.

[See the U.S. News rankings for the Best Diets.]

A second approach would be for the Food and Drug Administration (or state governments) to require prominent rotating health messages on cans and bottles of soda, such as:

  • The U.S. government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent obesity, tooth decay, and other health problems.
  • The U.S. government recommendation: protect your waistline and your teeth by drinking diet soda or water.

Fortunately, full-calorie sugar drinks have all but been driven out of the nation's schools. There's no reason that city halls, hospitals, museums, and other public facilities couldn't act on their own to dispense healthy beverages from vending machines instead of sugary junk.

[10 Things the Food Industry Doesn't Want You to Know]

The FDA considers sugars to be "generally recognized as safe," even though Americans are consuming several times the recommended level. The time may have come for the FDA to gradually ratchet down the amount of sugar that pours into the food supply—especially soft drinks—each year. That would be an incentive for industry to use smaller amounts of sugar through the use of safe and tasty sugar substitutes and ingredients that accentuate the taste of sugar.

Forty years ago excess consumption of sugar was seen primarily as a threat to teeth. Now we know it is far more harmful ... and government, industry, and consumers need to restore sugar to a smaller part of the American diet.

Michael Jacobson

About Michael Jacobson Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest

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Other Arguments

#1
71 Pts
Sugar Taxes Are Unfair and Unhealthy

No – Sugar Taxes Are Unfair and Unhealthy

Patrick Basham Co-author of 'Diet Nation: Exposing the Obesity Crusade'

#2
65 Pts
Consumers Need to Be Empowered, Not Made Into Victims

No – Consumers Need to Be Empowered, Not Made Into Victims

Keith T. Ayoob Director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

#3
55 Pts
Taxing Sugar Will Do More Harm Than Good

No – Taxing Sugar Will Do More Harm Than Good

Art Carden Assistant Professor of Economics at Rhodes College.

#4
4 Pts
Sugar Regulation Would Help Improve the American Diet

Yes – Sugar Regulation Would Help Improve the American Diet

Kristina Lewis Doctor and Researcher at the Obesity Prevention Program at Harvard Medical School

#5
-37 Pts
Sugars Have a Reasonable Place in Healthful Diets

Yes – Sugars Have a Reasonable Place in Healthful Diets

Marion Nestle Co-author of 'Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics'

#7
-40 Pts
Sugar Saturates Our Environment

Yes – Sugar Saturates Our Environment

Laura Schmidt Professor of Health Policy at the University of California-San Francisco

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