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10 January 2012
Medicos push for soda tax

Imposing a tax of one-penny-per-ounce on soda drinks could have a "huge" effect on soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, say medicos from Columbia University Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco.

Writing in the journal Health Affairs, the researchers note that Americans drink as much as 13 billion gallons of sugary drinks a year, making these drinks the largest source of added sugar and excess calories in the American diet. They estimate that if a penny-per-ounce tax were imposed on sugar-sweetened beverages, it would result in a 15 percent reduction in consumption.

Healthwise, they say that over a ten year period the penny-per-ounce tax could reduce new cases of diabetes by 3 percent and prevent as many as 95,000 coronary heart events. These health benefits, they add, represent more than $17 billion over a decade in medical costs. "You would also prevent 240,000 cases of diabetes per year," said researcher Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF.

The researchers suggest that a combination of water, diet drinks, and more nutritious beverages would likely replace the sugar-sweetened sodas. "With the estimated number of 860,000 fewer obese adults aged 25-64, and given the greater reductions in consumption among younger people, the longer-term health benefits would be far greater than the impacts during the first 10 years," added co-researcher Y. Claire Wang Wang, from Columbia University.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are cheap to buy, but the costs of associated health care are huge: about $174 billion per year on diabetes treatment costs and $147 billion on other obesity-related health problems.

Interestingly, because weight gain is just one factor in how sugary beverages contribute to diabetes and heart disease, the researchers point out, even if all the calories saved by cutting soda consumption were replaced and body weight remained the same, cutting consumption would still reduce diabetes and heart disease.

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Source: Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, University of California - San Francisco

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