August 8, 2016

History was made on June 16th when Philadelphia became the first major city in the US to impose a tax on sugary drinks. A 1.5 cent tax will be imposed on every ounce of both sugary and artificially sweetened drinks sold in the city…funds will be funneled specifically to pre-K education.

In the days leading up to the historic vote, the beverage industry funneled over 1.5 million dollars into advertising and campaigning against the tax, including paying people to dress up as protesters in order to create the impression the average Philadelphian was severely opposed to the tax. But the vote passed 13-4, and is estimated to generate about $90 million in revenue for the city every year beginning January 1, 2017.

Just like most major US cities, Philadelphia has an extremely high obesity rate: 7 out of 10 adults and 4 out of 10 children in Philly are overweight or obese. Since sugary drinks are the number one source of sugar in people's diet, it makes sense to incentivize people to limit consumption. The concept of a “sugar tax” is modeled after the cigarette tax which has been an extremely effective method of funding anti-smoking campaigns for several decades.

It's interesting to note that artificially sweetened drinks are also being taxed; a growing body of hard science has proved that diet drinks do NOT aid in weight loss! It turns out that artificial sweeteners are not only potentially carcinogenic but they also interfere with healthy gut bacteria and therefore have the potential to cause or at least contribute towards every major disease.

On the surface, the passage of this tax seems like a big step in a healthy direction! HOWEVER I continue to be extremely disturbed by the fact that in many US neighborhoods there is literally NO whole, fresh, healthy produce for sale, ANYWHERE! Instead, these neighborhoods are literally bombarded with advertising about pre-packaged snack foods and sodas resulting in TONS of these “pseudo-foods” being purchased every year. This phenomenon is known as “potato chip advertising” which basically means “it’s easier to sell potato chips to someone who already eats potato chips.” So perhaps there ARE large pockets of Philadelphians who are severely opposed to the new tax, and who can blame them? They’ve never been offered anything to drink other than soda and now, to add insult to injury, they have to pay more for it!

How is it possible that for the first time in human history obesity is a bigger health problem than hunger? For several years now I’ve had a theory: perhaps there’s a HUGE quantity of money riding on large segments of this country NOT being well!

And if you look at the new tax from a slightly different angle, isn’t it sort of a double-edged sword?

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