Proposed Tax on Sugary Beverages: Great Idea or Fatal Flaw?

The other day while turning on the television a commercial featuring several health care providers including a registered dietitian caught my eye. The selected professionals were advocating a sugar beverage tax as a way to curb the obesity epidemic in our population–but will this work? Are sugar-laden beverages exclusively to blame? What about diet drinks with sugar substitutes-is the proposed tax simply going to promote their consumption and if so is this really much better?

In an effort to both curb the consumption of soft drinks, as well as help finance the overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system, Congress has proposed a soda tax. In support of this legislation, on October 15, 2009, New England Journal of Medicine published an article stating that the consumption of sugary drinks has increased in the past 30-plus years for both children and adults, and recent studies point to this increased consumption as one of the causes for the rising rates of obesity in this country.

Advocates for the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, including sodas, sports drinks, and sugar-infused “fruit” drinks, believe the tax will help raise much-needed funds while reducing the prevalence of obesity.

On the other hand, critics believe that part of the problem with taxing sugary drinks—or any food for that matter—is that the move does not educate people in making the necessary healthy lifestyle changes, and as a result we are actually doing a disservice to people. Additionally, many health care providers worry about the positive message we may be sending about diet sodas. How will it effect those with existing eating disorders? Will we see a rise in disordered eating as a result?

Perhaps the proposed tax on sugary beverages may not ultimately be protecting the best interests and overall health of our population …..


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