Taxing Our Way to Health

Philadelphia has taxed sugary beverages for just over a year, but regulations and taxes like this are popping up all over the world.

In Chile, policy makers have won one of the biggest battles against powerful sugar, junk food, and soda lobbies. Corporations are prohibited from using cartoon characters in advertising, cannot play commercials during children’s programming, and schools have strict guidelines about what kinds of food can be sold on campus and during the school day. They also have a high tax on soda and will be enacting stricter guidelines for advertising in the next two years.

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Cereal boxes scrubbed of their cartoon mascots, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/health/obesity-chile-sugar-regulations.html

From the NYT article:

Until the late 1980s, malnutrition was widespread among poor Chileans, especially children. Today, three-quarters of adults are overweight or obese, according to the country’s health ministry. Officials have been particularly alarmed by childhood obesity rates that are among the world’s highest, with over half of 6-year-old children overweight or obese.

In 2016, the medical costs of obesity reached $800 million, or 2.4 percent of all health care spending, a figure that analysts say will reach nearly 4 percent in 2030.

Such sobering statistics helped rally a coalition of elected officials, scientists and public health advocates who overcame fierce opposition from food companies and their allies in government.

“It was a hard-fought guerrilla war,” said Senator Guido Girardi, vice president of the Chilean senate and a doctor who first proposed the regulations in 2007. “People have a right to know what these food companies are putting in this trash, and with this legislation, I think Chile has made a huge contribution to humanity.”

Other countries, are of course, facing similar struggles. I know soda taxes are unpopular and controversial (I work right by City Hall in Philadelphia and was subject to blaring truck horns of soda distributers protesting the soda tax before it was passed) but I think they’re a really interesting and important tool in the fight for better nutrition and fair advertising. That said, I think there are lots of legitimate reasons why people feel icky about soda taxes! While I’m generally in favor of them, it does feel not great that the tax burden of these increase falls disproportionately with low-income shoppers while there aren’t significant efforts to make healthy food more affordable and accessible.

Other articles of interest:

How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food – 9.16.17 from the New York Times

Congress Could Cut Soda and Candy from SNAP, but Big Sugar is Pushing Back – 8.28.17 from Civil Eats