Junkfood Science: Fat discrimination tax

December 15, 2008

Fat discrimination tax

(December 16, 2008 Addendum at end of post.)

It made the financial news today, because everyone knows it’s not really about health. But even the numbers don’t add up.

New York Governor, David Paterson, is reported as proposing a 15% tax on sugar-sweetened sodas, calling it an obesity tax. That makes it sound like it has a noble intention of public health concerns over obesity, when, as the Financial Times noted, it’s really just a way to raise money to help address the state’s $13.3 billion deficit.

But even that’s pretty sorry math. According to the latest New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Community Health Survey, about 1.66 million NYC adults drink one 12-ounce serving of sugar-sweetened soda per day. Even at a retail cost of $1 apiece, a 15-cent tax would raise about $249,000/day or $90.9 million/year — still leaving at the end of the year a $13.2 billion deficit. Other estimates have put the take as high as $400 million/year, still not a fix, but suggesting most will come from visitors rather than help to slim down New Yorkers.

While it might be popular to lead the public to go along with this tax believing it’s fat people drinking most sugar-sweetened soda — they aren’t. The biggest drinkers are young adult men. When their colas cost more, they’re going to blame the fat people.

But, as reported last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the latest NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004) statistics show no correlation between the calories consumed in sweetened drinks and obesity. Calories consumed don’t rise with weight. There is no “dose response.” In fact, ‘normal’ weight people drink slightly more sugar-sweetened beverages than overweight people, according to the latest NHANES data.

But the differences among all weight categories in the calories consumed from sweetened beverages is only a splitting hairs difference of a mere 26 calories/day. Sodas, sweet drinks or sweets don't cause obesity, nor has cutting soda been found to do anything to reduce obesity. This isn’t an obesity tax.

Even if you believe calories consumed cause obesity, it’s interesting that sodas, popularly believed to be bad, are being targeted and not higher calorie drinks with more social status.

A 12-ounce cola = 150 calories

A Dunkin Donuts medium Mocha Spice Latte = 330 calories

A Starbuck’s Chai Latte, whole milk, Venti = 398 calories

A Seattle's Best medium Peppermint Mocha Trio = 460 calories

A 12-ounce eggnog = 514 calories

This is the opening salvo for sin taxes on perceived behaviors associated with obesity. It’s just as El Rushbo predicted 14 years ago:

They're going to start capitalizing on this discrimination against the fat. I can see spending caps at McDonald's… We're going to hear stories about secondhand fat being a health hazard. You know what's going to happen, you're going to be sitting in that restaurant, that fat pig is going to be eating on salad or something and you're going to say, "You know, I'm in the presence of a fat person eating and I can just sense fat globules all around me, and it's going to infect me and I'm going to get fat." Maybe they'll even have a calorie tax or a grams-of-fat tax. I mean this is just silly.

December 16, 2008 Addendum:

This morning, Governor Paterson presented his 2009-2020 Executive Budget to eliminate what he said was the largest deficit in the state’s history — $13.7 billion.

As Financial Times reported, he is now proposing an additional 18 percent sales tax on nondiet soft drinks:

Laura Anglin, the state’s budget director, said on Tuesday that the move was part of efforts to create a “healthier New York,” and that the proceeds of the tax would be directed towards the state’s healthcare spending… A summary of the budget document says that the move “it will discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from excessive consumption of these beverages”… She also cited a Harvard Medical School study that asserted that each additional 12-ounce soft drink consumed per day increases risk of a child becoming obese by 60 per cent… The level of the proposed New York tax goes far beyond the levels imposed by other states on non-essential foods, none of which is higher than 7.5 per cent.

Indeed, page 28 of his Executive Budget proposes levying an 18% additional sales tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks, citing an obesity epidemic causing up to 365,000 deaths per year — an outdated, incorrect figure that the CDC long ago reversed — and claiming soft drinks increase risk for diabetes — another pop belief of “sugar causing sugar-diabetes” that sound medical science long ago debunked. It also cites that “each additional 12-ounce soft drink consumed per day increases risk of a child becoming obese by 60 percent.”

That 2001 soda pop study had been resoundly discredited years ago and had actually found “no difference in the BMIs of children consuming the most and the least amounts of sugar or sugary drinks,” and that cutting soft drinks had no effect on reducing obesity rates. The authors had even noted “there is no clear evidence that consumption of sugar per se affects food intake in a unique manner or causes obesity.”

Another example of politicians deciding major public policies based on urban legends.

Bookmark and Share