Note: APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, wrote an op-ed to U.S News and World Report on the health benefits that “sugar-sweetened beverage taxes” can have on American population health. View the article in its entirety online.

Georges Benjamin

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD

“Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes as a public policy tool to improve population health are valid and should be supported. The toll that sugary beverages – which include soda, enhanced water and sweetened teas, as well as fruit, sports and energy drinks – take on the health of the population is enormous. They are linked to more than 180,000 diabetes, cardiovascular and cancer-related deaths worldwide per year. Numerous studies have shown links between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and cardiovascular risk, higher blood pressure and heart disease among women, while soda consumption nearly doubles the risk of tooth decay in children. Additionally, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was responsible for roughly 100,000 cases of diabetes over the past decade.

Even worse, people are drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages than ever before. In fact, the average American now drinks 45 gallons of these sugary drinks per year. Even children are at risk: Forty-four percent of toddlers between 19 and 24 months consume a sugary drink every day, as do 70 percent of 2-to-5-year-olds. We know that for each additional soda a child drinks in one day, his or her risk of obesity increases by 60 percent. It’s not coincidental that these upticks have coincided with a fatter America. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, and nearly 36 percent are obese. Obesity accounts for 16.5 percent of U.S. medical expenditures every year.

Adults can take control over their health and their children’s health by first understanding the impact of sugary beverages and limiting their individual intake. But to counter the impact on the population of mass advertising, product placement and product pricing, we should add sound public tax policy to our toolkit. Recently, the city of Berkeley, California, passed landmark legislation that taxed certain sugary drinks. We know that taxes, like Berkeley’s 1-cent-per-ounce on high-calorie sugary drinks, can make it easier for people to make healthier choices.”