Measure recommended in the American Journal of Public Health

WASHINGTON - Health advocates at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Yale University recommended in a paper in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health that soft drinks and snack foods be taxed to provide funding for nutrition and health campaigns.

     The new study found that 17 states — including California and New York — Chicago, and the District of Columbia already have special taxes on soft drinks or snack foods. Collectively, those sales taxes and other levies raise $1 billion per year, but the revenues are not used to promote healthier lifestyles. The food industry successfully lobbied to repeal similar taxes in seven other states and is trying to do so now in the District of Columbia.

     “With obesity rates soaring and the costs of diet-related diseases in the stratosphere, it is essential that government fund major campaigns to promote healthful diets and physical activity,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI and co-author of the report. “One way to obtain funding is to apply small taxes to foods that undermine health.”

     The new report cites government studies that estimate that as many as 500,000 people are dying each year due to poor diets and physical inactivity, and that the cost of diet-related diseases is well over $71 billion annually.

     Jacobson and co-author Kelly D. Brownell, professor of psychology at Yale University, estimate that a one-cent tax per 12-ounce soft drink could generate about $1.5 billion annually. In addition, a penny tax per pound of candy, chips and other snack foods, or fats and oils, would raise about $70 million, $54 million, and $190 million, respectively. The researchers said that those small taxes would have little or no direct effect on sales of those foods.

     According to the new report, the National Cancer Institute spends only about $1 million annually to publicize its 5-A-Day campaign, which encourages fruit and vegetable consumption. In comparison, McDonald’s spends $1 billion, soft-drink companies more than $500 million, and M&M candies $67 million on promotions.

     “Small taxes on soft drinks, candy, gum, and snack foods are a sensible way to fund health-promotion programs,” said Brownell. “Those programs could result in better health and lower health-care costs.”