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  Contra Costa Times Your Turn: Soda Tax is an Excellent Tool in Fighting Obesity
December 26, 2011

Contra Costa Times Your Turn: Soda tax is an excellent tool in fighting obesity

By Jeremy Fish
Contra Costa Times Your Turn
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 12/24/2011 04:00:00 PM PST
Updated: 12/24/2011 04:20:42 PM PST

As a practicing family physician and director of the Contra Costa Family Medicine Residency Program in Martinez, I was deeply troubled by the misguided and unchallenged Other Views editorial by your reader Larry Goltz: "Backers of soda tax thirsty for revenue."
Although I respect Goltz's right to promote his own views and anti-tax sentiments, I fear his anti-tax fervor may be clouding his capacity to see that the real "fat tax" is the $147 billion we spend to treat the immense complications of obesity in the U.S.
We all know that obesity is multi-factorial and that sugar is not the sole cause of childhood obesity. Yet study after study is confirming the link between low exercise levels, excess stationary media activities (TV and video games) and excess calorie and soda consumption with childhood obesity.
There is also ample evidence that substantial taxes, such as the 1 cent per ounce of soda that is being proposed for Richmond, do lead to reductions in consumption of harmful or potentially harmful substances.
That's why the beverage industry is fighting so hard against these endeavors in creating the beverage industry front group Americans Against Food Taxes to lobby against soda taxes nationwide. Goltz appears to have taken a page out of the playbook of Americans Against Food Taxes in his editorial, even as he asserts his own lack of connection and collaboration with the food industry.
The current "fat tax" of $147 billion in health care costs absorbed by all Americans is one Goltz clearly supports in his effort to promote personal responsibility as a cure-all for our public ills -- an assertion that has been proven wrong again and again.
We heard the same rhetoric from the tobacco loyalists' favorite phrase -- "I've smoked my whole life and haven't missed a day of work or ever had cancer" -- a sad reminder of the emptiness of Goltz's own assertion to have consumed soda every day since he was 15 and suffered no ill-consequences from it.
A 2008 New York state poll revealed that 72 percent of those surveyed support a soda tax linked to using the revenue to battle against childhood obesity.
When the state attempted to pass a law to support the public desire to reduce soda consumption and raise revenues, PepsiCo killed the bill by threatening to move its headquarters out of the state.
Wow, one company vs. the people, and the one company wins. Is that the America we all want to live in, where a single industry such as the banks or the soda industry can dictate the laws we will pass to promote the health and welfare of our nation?
Does Goltz think it's best to follow the soda industry lobbyists rather than the rising tide of health experts, physicians, public health officials, dentists, dietitians and other health groups that support soda taxes nationwide?
Maybe he needs to read what health experts are saying before he tries to provide his own health educational efforts in the future. I'd suggest he take a look at an excellent summary of REAL evidence and public policy benefits of taxing soda from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, "The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages" (www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr0905723).
I like sugar, enjoy a soda now and again, and fully understand and appreciate the appeal of individual freedoms. However, when individual freedoms are based on false information, soda industry lobbying and strong-arm tactics as well as denial of the massive obesity taxes we are already paying every day, that's when I turn to scientific evidence and the rational use of consumption taxes such as the soda tax to help guide public health policy and consumer choices.
Dr. Jeremy Fish is a family physician in Martinez.