On June 3, the New York Times editorial page endorsed the idea of a tax on sugary sodas, and I especially liked the way the writer placed the issue in context:
Bigger fixes are needed, of course, starting with decent health care. The young need more exercise, healthier lunches and better education on nutrition. All consumers — not just those lucky enough to live near farms or large grocery stores — should be able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices. While we wait, Congress could impose an excise tax on sugary drinks — one of the main culprits in the obesity epidemic.
Yesterday, the Times published three letters in response, a set remarkable for concisely summarizing the same tired, old arguments.
From the American Beverage Association: “Balancing calories consumed with those expended through physical activity is the critical factor in preventing obesity. Therefore, we must continue to educate Americans about the importance of energy balance.” Yes, but that won’t be enough. As I have explained in previous posts, overeating calories has a much greater impact on weight gain than physical activity has in preventing it, and plenty of those overeaten calories come from sugary drinks these days.
Another writer, complaining that personal responsibility and parental responsibility have been lost in this discussion, then goes on to propose precisely the non-personal, societal approaches that the editorial was promoting: “Let’s try removing soda machines from our schools, providing healthier school lunches and ensuring that our gym classes are financed.”
Good ideas. But I still think soda taxes could be an interesting experiment, well worth a try.