Right now, the media and online blogger world is abuzz with talk of the proposed soda tax. The proposal, which calls for a larger tax on “sugar-sweetened” drinks (a large majority of states already have taxes on soft drinks, but they are much lower than what is being proposed), will raise money to fund government run obesity education as well as lower health care costs.
I agree that we need more nutritional education and that health care is too expensive, and even that Americans are a little chubbier than they need to be. However, I fail to understand why soda is stuck paying the price. If you peruse the grocery store shelves (as well as the menus of every fast food chain in the country) you will find hundreds of products that are equally culpable in terms of making consumers fat. Why is soda being singled out?
If we are going to tax things that are fattening, shouldn’t we tax ALL things fattening, and not just the easiest target? I understand that my “save the soda industry” plea may not go very far, considering that Coke and Pepsi combined control over 75 percent of market share, and it’s hard to generate sympathy for hundred billion dollar companies. And after all, it is entirely plausible that taxing regular soda will just lead people to buy more diet soda instead, altering, but not lessening, soda sales. But it would only seem fair to hold all fattening products equally accountable.
I think what is bothering me the most is the claim that the government is doing this because it cares about my health. In NJ, I pay a 7 percent tax on my gym membership. I thought we were trying to combat obesity? This for me is the financial equivalent of my parents punishing me when I was younger “because they love me and know what’s best for me.” That didn’t fly with me when I was five, and it’s certainly not sitting well for me now. The decision to eat healthier is a personal one for me (one I actually have not made, but I digress)—not something that I can be financially strong-armed into doing or even, lovingly convinced to do.
So how can the government convince consumers to make better nutritional decisions? How about taking the opposite approach? Instead of focusing on making unhealthy food choices financially undesirable, what if we were to focus on making healthy choices more desirable?
There are many theories as to why unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food, most of which are linked to government subsidies. In order to encourage farmers to grow certain crops, our government heavily subsidizes corn and soybeans—both major ingredients in junk food. Hence, unhealthy foods are more plentiful, and thus, cheaper to purchase.
I’m not trying to blame the Farm Bill when my jeans are too tight, because I take personal responsibility for the nutritional decisions I make. At the end of the day, you can lead a consumer to healthy beverage choices, but you can’t make him drink. Consumers have to WANT to make better beverage decisions—the government can’t force them with taxes.
Perhaps the lessons we learned as children still hold true as adults. When I was a child, I fought viciously with my little sister. All the time-outs in the world couldn’t stop our fighting. The sole item that could bring my mother a fleeting moment of peace and quiet: Barbie. The promise of Barbie dolls and Barbie doll accessories always managed to quell the sister wars.
Mattel estimates that it sells two Barbie dolls per second, every day. That’s a lot of well-behaved children. Which leads me to believe that maybe, as a country, we should stop focusing on punishments, and instead focus on sweetening the rewards.
Let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org.