Tax on sugary drinks could save 26 000 US lives per year

First Denmark imposed a ‘fat tax’ on unhealthy foods, now researchers in the United States are pushing for a tax on sweetened drinks, which they say could save 26 000 lives per year.

The team from the University of California, San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Centre and Columbia University have found that increasing the cost of fizzy drinks and other sweetened beverages by a penny per ounce, would reduce consumption by 15 per cent in ten years.

The report, “A Penny-Per-Ounce Tax on Sugar –Sweetened Beverages Would Cut Health and Cost Burdens of Diabetes,” published in the January edition of the Health Affairs Journal did base its findings on the assumption that the sugary drinks were replaced by healthier alternatives including water and milk.

The health impacts associated with obesity have earned it the title of ‘the new smoking’ amongst many experts, and as society becomes more informed about the detriments of being overweight, behaviours are beginning to change.

Only yesterday it was announced that the manufacturer of the famous Twinkies and Ding Dongs had filed for bankruptcy, and many predict it won’t be the first junk food company to go.

But while kilojoule information on fast food menus and advice on how often to eat foods high in fat, sugar and salt are now part of Western culture, experts say many people are unaware of the negative affects sugary drinks have on their diets.

The worrying rise in obesity and diabetes rates in the US are partly blamed on the massive amounts of sugar people drink, with 13.8 billion gallons of fruit punch, sweet tea drinks, sports drinks, fizzy drinks and other sweetened beverages consumed every year.

Each person in the US consumes an average of 45 gallons of sugary beverages each year and with 17 teaspoons of sugar in the normal 22 ounce fizzy drink, that leads to huge health problems.

Each year the average American will consume 70 000 calories from sugary beverages alone and currently over 8 per cent of the population has diabetes, costing $US174 billion in medical costs each year.

The University of California’s associate professor of biostatistics and medicine, Dr Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, said a tax would certainly save lives.

“Consumption of beverages high in calories but poor in nutritional value is the number one source of added sugar and excess calories in the American diet. Sugar-sweetened drinks are linked to type 2 diabetes and weight gain,” she said.

According to the research, she said $US 13 billion in direct tax revenue would be raised nationally by the tax if it was imposed across the country, which would then save the US $US17 billion each year in health care-related expenses of obesity-related conditions.

The team based its research on the latest government statistics and found a tax on sweetened drinks could prevent 240 000 cases of diabetes per year alone.

It would also save 100 000 people from suffering heart disease, 8000 from strokes and prevent overall deaths by 26 000 each year.

California and New York City are among the states in the US already considering imposing such a tax, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has it listed as one of its chief obesity prevention strategies.




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