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Tax could sway us from soda

Don’t do it, I say to myself. Don’t walk next door to McDonald’s and buy that large fountain soda for $1.29. Sure, that’s a good deal, especially when you know you can guzzle it down right there, refill it and have another. But you know, I know, that soda isn’t good for me. It has who knows how many unpronounceable chemicals and dyes and sugar that makes it tastes good. So, I repeat again, don’t walk next door and buy that large fountain soda. 

Five minutes later, I’m leaving McDonald’s with a Diet Coke from that fountain soda machine, topped with just a bit of regular Coke. Ah, got to admit, it hits the spots just right. Water, sure, that’s good for us. But I can only drink so much of it before I want to toss my water bottle in the trash and rush back to vending machine, put in a $1 and sip that ice cold pop.

I’ve been staging this inner battle against pop for years now. Sometimes, I win and go for weeks without a single drop passing these lips. But sometimes, I lose and drink 32-pounces, lots of ice in there, and feel that caffeine/sugar buzz that gets me through the afternoon. They have yet to find me sleeping in my office thanks to soda. But maybe I’d be better off taking that nap.

Diet pop is said to be the worst for you, because since they left out the sugar, they had to put something else in there to make it drinkable. They say soda is nothing but sugar water — zip when it comes to nutritional value. The stuff can lead to obesity, diabetes and Lord knows what else. Diet pop, at least by one study, causes you to gain weight. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center monitored 475 adults for 10 years, and found that those who drank diet soda had a 70 percent increase in waist circumference, compared with those who didn’t drink any soda. “Those who drank more than two diet sodas per day saw a 500 percent waist expansion. A separate study the same researchers conducted on mice suggested that it was the aspartame, which raised blood glucose levels, that caused the weight gain; when your liver encounters too much glucose, the excess is converted to body fat,” the study found.

Despite some level of awareness consuming this liquid is bad for me, I continue to do so. I am not alone. According to one Associated Press report, the average American consumes 44 gallons of the soda per year. Wow. That’s a lot of pop we’re putting down. The average U.S. household spends nearly a $1,000 a year on pop. And overall, Americans will spend about $75 billion a year on pop. Yep. We like it and it seems pretty harmless when we drink it.  Doesn’t seem so bad when it’s only a dollar or two here and there. I guess it goes along the lines that unless I see the damage as I’m swallowing yet more Diet Pepsi, unless I feel actually pain, unless my belly swells in correlation to each ounce, I’ve convinced myself it’s OK. 

Of course, I’ve noticed I’m tipping the scales at a higher number than I would like. Can’t have anything to do with pop, can it? It can.

“The main thing is excess calories,” Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told  “If everything else in their diet is equal, a person who has a can of Coke a day adds an extra 14.5 pounds per year, just from the calories alone.”

According to Ochner, new studies have emerged in the past decade that suggest all calories may not be created equal.

“We’re finding some research that seems to indicate that calories from sugar are more easily turned into fat in your body than calories from fat in food are turned into fat in your body,” Ochner said. Translation: Eating and drinking sugar makes you gain more weight than eating fat.


So how do you get folks to stop drinking so much pop? Clearly, most of us aren’t worried about some negative health impacts. In my research, which I’m no claiming is extensive, I came across a commentary by Dr. Karunesh Tuli of Pasadena, California. He points out what will be key to win this war: Money.

Earlier, voters in Berkeley, California, approved a cent an ounce soda tax. 

“Public health practitioners all over the world will see this as a strike against the spread of flab, a victory against an industry that entices people to harm themselves by consuming empty calories,” Tuli wrote.

There is good reason to believe that soda taxes can help reduce consumption of sugared beverages, he said. Researchers at Yale and other universities have predicted substantial reductions. Mexico imposed a peso a liter tax on sodas last year. Consumption has fallen in that country.

However, he also notes that taxes on food in one jurisdiction will likely not decrease obesity dramatically. 

“When Denmark imposed a tax on fat-rich foods in 2011, Danes found ways to indulge in German and Swedish ice cream and butter,” Tuli wrote. “Tobacco companies, hit hard in the United States by litigation and taxes, have made fresh conquests overseas. Squeezed at one end balloons tend to expand at the other. Likewise, soda makers will continue to move aggressively into parts of the world that do not yet have the high consumption levels of the Americas. In the last decade, soda consumption has increased rapidly in Brazil, China, and India.”

In his epic poem “Odyssey,” Homer describes how his hero gets himself tied to the mast of his ship to resist succumbing to the tempting songs of the Sirens. 

“Taxes on fatty and sugary foods are akin to covering the Sirens with shabby clothes, diminishing but not eliminating their ability to attract sailors,” Tuli wrote. “Unaided, the taxes will not be a strong enough deterrent. Obesity reduction needs multiple approaches; educational efforts and interventions to bring healthier foods into schools and neighborhoods will continue to be important.”

But a tax is a good start.

“If the new tax succeeds in sparking a global and multi-pronged effort to reduce girths, backers of Berkeley’s measure may well accomplish much more than their vision of a slimmer city: a healthier world,” he wrote.

I’ll drink to that. Not a soda, though. 



Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or


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