Can the Food Police or Tax Man Improve Your Health?

I’m a nutrition consultant for various food and beverage companies, and I am sometimes paid to write, but my opinions are my own.

A state senator in Cali is trying to get a warning label put onto soda pop and other sugary beverages. Something to the effect of: “This could kill you”. [Ok, joking aside, he actually would like it to state: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”] In addition, retailers would have to post warnings wherever sweet beverages are sold, otherwise face a $500 penalty.

The idea of adding a warning label to foods and beverages takes its lead from alcohol and tobacco warnings (do people who drink and smoke read those?). Unlike tobacco in which any amount harms, soda, like alcohol, can be enjoyed in moderation. Alcohol should not be consumed during pregnancy (a time when every bite counts). While even a small amount of alcohol may cause harm, soft drinks are simply “empty calories” that do not promote growth of a developing fetus.

Most reasonable people understand that obesity is not caused by one food or ingredient. The key to correcting the problem is education, counseling by qualified health professionals (i.e. registered dietitian-nutritonists, RDNs) and creating environments that encourage more daily walking. It takes more than a doctor or food label telling a patient: “Too much soda is bad for your health”. Making changes in dietary behaviors takes time, and most people need very specific advice.

The state of Illinois on the other hand, wants to add a tax. This would hit soft drinks, other sweetened beverages, including sports drinks (so all you cross country runners and cyclists out there – you will pay to fuel!).

Let me tell you how it will be. There’s one for you, nineteen for me. Cos I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman… 

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

~ The Beatles, Taxman

If obesity is costing the nation $150 billion (yes, that’s with a B), it’s not time to tax, it’s time to hire a lot more registered dietitians in medical practices and outpatient settings! RDNs can help a patient understand why they may be consuming too many sugary drinks, what to replace them with, and how to balance out their whole diet in a way that they can successfully manage. RDNs also act as coaches to help the patient follow other important doctor’s orders.

People also need to want to lose weight, and if they do, they should have access to appropriate support. Taxing all sugary beverages, or adding simple warning labels, is only going to increase prices at the grocery store, yet get us nowhere in terms of public health.

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