One in four New Yorkers is obese, and soda is America’s hottest scapegoat. New York City may implement an 18 percent sales tax on soda and sugary drinks in the name of reducing obesity and raising money for health programs.
This proposal has sparked debate about the the efficacy of the tax and the potential harm to businesses. According to the New York Times, this tax would decrease soda consumption by 5 percent and would raise over $400 million per year.
This wouldn’t be the first time New York policy aimed to influence personal health decisions. New York State passed a comprehensive anti-smoking law in 2003, and New York City was the first to ban trans fats in restaurants.
“It’s an interesting experiment and one that’s worth trying,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “The theory behind this approach is that it worked for cigarettes, and that soft drinks are demonstrably related to obesity in children.”
But Connie B. Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and a past president of the American Dietetic Association, expressed skepticism. “Generally, taxing food doesn’t change long-term behaviors with respect to appropriate food choices,” she said. It takes lifestyle changes and education, she said.
Without providing other affordable and healthy alternatives in the bodegas and corner stores, a little less soda won’t radically alter the daily diets of the city’s poorest residents. This soda tax proposal is worthwhile if only to stimulate an important debate and bring urban nutrition to the forefront of policy makers’ minds. But regardless of how taxing an abundant, empty-calorie filled beverage in our largest city affects obesity rates, I would be hard pressed to oppose it.