The controversial law that could reverse the obesity crisis

Sometimes, the most complicated problems have the simplest solutions.

Take the obesity epidemic, for example. I’m not suggesting any singular act could wipe out this public health crisis for good. That would be ridiculous.

But one very plain and necessary measure could pull the emergency brake on this runaway train. So I don’t understand why some people–and when I say some, I mean most–disagree with me so vehemently on the subject.

I’m talking about the prospect of a sugar tax. One of my favorite topics to discuss… despite the feathers I usually ruffle in the process.

Basically, I think sugar-sweetened soft drinks need to be hyper-taxed, like cigarettes. Sugar is a pleasurable vice–just like alcohol and tobacco. Sin taxes are something we’ve come to accept with these products.

If we’re serious about curbing obesity, sugar shouldn’t be an exception. And it looks like some smart people in a few other countries agree with me.

In fact, a study out of the UK showed a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks could spare hundreds of thousands of adults from obesity. We’re talking significant numbers–and the British aren’t nearly as addicted to these drinks as we are.

So just imagine the number of people whose lives we could quite literally save–simply by imposing a tax that should already be in place.

The UK hasn’t put this proposed tax into action yet. But the legislative wheels are turning–which is more than I can say for our country. Here in the United States, even the most innocuous attempts to enact laws like this have been shot down.

Like New York’s ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stalled effort. All he proposed was a ban on the sale of large soft drinks. (If you wanted to buy a dozen small ones and drink them all in one sitting, no one was going to stop you.)

Now, it’s stopped cold in the appeal process. The New York Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. But who knows when that will happen?

Meanwhile, two different cities in California have also tried their hands and failed. Their proposed tax on sugary drinks? Just a penny per ounce.

That’s a mere 20 cents tacked onto the price tag of your average soda. (Which is really two servings, but don’t get me started on that.) And just 72 cents more for a six-pack.

Is that an onerous or outrageous sum of money? NO. I mean, we’ve already imposed a five-to-ten-cent-per-can recycling fee. Which most people just toss into the trash (literally and figuratively) without a second thought.

So what’s the big deal? The resistance here is truly baffling. Especially when you consider what a “sin tax” on sugar could do for our budget.

In the UK, estimates suggest that a 20 percent tax could supply the government with the equivalent of nearly 500 million dollars annually. I dare say that’s money we could use. At the very least, it would help to offset the strain obesity puts on our healthcare system.

Mexico’s wising up too. With an obesity rate and soda habit that’s even more super-sized than ours, their government didn’t waste any time imposing a peso-per-liter soft drink tax. So what’s holding up legislation here?

Oh… I don’t know. Could it be that sugar is subsidized by the U.S. government? And billionaires are making gobs of money from it?

Once again, we export our bad habits and then other countries have to teach us how to clean up our own mess.

“A substantial tax on sugar sweetened drinks could help reduce obesity.” BMJ. 2013 Oct 31;347:f5947.