AMA should stick to medicine, not tax policy

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Yesterday we covered the launch of a PLoS Medicine series critical of Big Food, and now it seems as though the American Medical Association (AMA) is jumping on the same bandwagon. At their annual meeting yesterday, the organization officially stated that taxing soda should be considered as a policy for raising funds toward anti-obesity programs.

Though we re not surprised by the latest campaign, why is the AMA, like so many others, singling out soda? Well, because current research models, the AMA claims, find that a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks would reduce obesity and overweight by 5 percent, while medical costs would decrease by $17 billion over a decade.

To which ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross responds, There is no such evidence that a soda tax would have any of the aforementioned effects. The studies that reach such conclusions are relying on computer models that do not reflect the much more complicated reality," he says. "Indeed, yesterday we saw how such contradictions find their way into supposedly scientific discourse: One advocate of taxing soda indicated that this would reduce obesity by a significant degree and cut healthcare costs by billions. Yet in the next breath, he acknowledged that this approach by itself would have minimal impact on the obesity problem.

Not only is the AMA hoping that a soda tax will decrease consumption, they also think that the revenue gained can be used to fund important programs to treat obesity and related conditions.

Unfortunately, observes Dr. Ross, as we ve already learned from the Master Settlement Agreement with Big Tobacco, the money raised from these taxes is rarely used as intended. Instead of helping combat obesity, the revenue generated from soda taxes would most likely be used to balance state budgets. This is nothing more than another useless excise tax.

And ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan has wondered all along why, instead of pointing the finger at soda, public health officials don t encourage people to make the switch to diet soda, which packs no calories? That s because such diet beverages require further study, says the AMA. What do they mean by further study ? Dr. Whelan asks. The sweeteners used in diet soda drinks have been tested extensively, and for the AMA to raise the specter of some still unidentified danger just goes to show that they re not trying to fight obesity; they re only trying to fight soda.