City of Austin should assign mandatory sugar tax

Gabby Sanchez

In the 1960s, the sugar industry funded research that minimized sugar’s role in diseases like coronary heart disease, shifting the blame to fat. Fifty years later, over a third of the U.S. population is considered obese. A tax on sugary drinks like soda could discourage Americans from consuming an excessive amount of added sugar every day.

The link between sugar and certain illnesses like type II diabetes and heart disease is well established, and high levels of sugar consumption pose a heightened danger to kids. Many Americans eat much more sugar than what is recommended, putting them more at risk for these diseases even if they are not overweight.

Simply advising the American public to avoid products with added sugar is not rational when 60 to 70 percent of grocery store products contain a form of added sugar. Even foods that are labeled “healthy” and “organic” can contain one of the many forms of added sugar, which leaves consumers confused and misled by marketing and bad labeling. A push has changed nutrition labels, but the likelihood that this will affect people’s consumption of overly sugary products is low.

In an effort to combat this widespread issue, the World Health Organization published a proposal urging countries to place a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks. They argue the policy would curb the consumption of these products, similar to taxes placed on tobacco products. WHO also recommends decreasing the price of fresh fruits and vegetables by 10-30 percent to encourage consumption of these healthier options.

Measures like this have already been passed in countries across the world and in cities across the U.S.. After only having their tax in effect for four months, Berkeley saw a 21 percent decrease in the amount of soda consumption. In Mexico, the tax reduced the consumption of drinks with added sugar on average by 6 percent and increasing the sale of water products by 4 percent. It will take more time to determine what effects they will have on obesity rates, but WHO predicts that by 2050 over 400,000 cases of type II diabetes will have been averted in Mexico, thanks to the tax.

Following the WHO’s guidelines could not only save lives, but money. Both the government and individuals spend more and more each year to treat obesity-related health problems, money that could be allocated to other health services if a tax was successful in reducing the number of obesity related diseases like cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

State and federal government placed excise taxes on tobacco products to combat the obvious negative health effects on the public. The government knew they could prevent citizens from continuing a habit that lead to disease and premature death with an increased price tag. If the city of Austin instated this policy it could serve as a testing ground for other Texas cities such as Houston and Dallas. It may end up costing a bit more to drink a Coke, but if this means that Americans consume less of them, then it is the best way to better public health.

Sanchez is a journalism freshman from Round Rock. Follow her on Twitter @narwhalieee.