Only two years after banning the free toys from kids meals high in fat, salt and sugar, turning Happy Meals into the unhappy meal, San Francisco is now jumping on the bandwagon with an attempt to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. According to supervisor Scott Wiener, a ballot measure will be introduced this week that proposes a tax of two cents per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages with more than 25 calories and that are less than 50 percent fruit or vegetable juice. As is always the case, the city fathers (and mothers, we presume) promise that the tax money is intended to be used to fund health, nutrition and activity programs for city kids.
This proposal comes in the wake of defeated measures in Richmond, CA, the LA County town of El Monte, and recently in New York City (remember Mayor Michael Bloomberg s ill-fated and ill-conceived proposal to ban the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces?). However, Wiener defends San Francisco s proposal, saying that according to a statewide poll, 68 percent of voters say they would support this tax if the money is really used as the Mayor said, to improve health and nutrition programs in schools.
And Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a UCSF professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics adds, We concluded that adding a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages could potentially prevent 240,000 cases of diabetes per year, and additionally avoid 100,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 deaths over the next decade.
To which ACSH s Ariel Savransky responds, The computer models used to arrive at such conclusions make many assumptions not closely tied to valid science-based studies. While it s correct to assume that if someone is cutting sugar-sweetened beverages from their diet without replacing them with something else, they will be consuming fewer calories overall which could potentially result in weight-loss and therefore other health benefits. However, this is most likely not the case. She goes on, The sugar-sweetened beverage tax in general is not the answer to reducing obesity rates. There is no solid scientific evidence that is, not based on computer-generated models based on self-serving assumptions supporting this link. But at least this current proposal acknowledges the importance of promoting nutrition and physical activity in schools even though it may not be guaranteed that that is where the money is going to end up.