Thursday, June 21, 2012

AMA: People of Walmart Should Get a New Tax

It's hard to believe - well, maybe not - that the Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA) would be so out of touch with America's obesity epidemic that they are now proposing a soda tax to "fight obesity."  We should ask ourselves, especially in light of the growing cigarette use in teens these days, how that approach has worked for cigarettes.

To think, even for a second, that a "penny-per-ounce" levy would "pare consumption of sugary drings 5% and therefore cut health costs by $17 billion" is nothing more than spin.  I am aware of no study that has proven that taxes cause people to lose weight and keep it off.   Nor have I seen any study that has proven that taxes save health care costs.  (Please, if you know of even one, please send it to me.)

Even worse: I know it's the Chicago Way, but since when have doctors become a taxing authority

Increasingly doctors, especially the paternalistically elite doctors, demonstrate they have no comprehension of the impact their taxes will have on America's poor.  After all, who are the ones drinking the 44-ounce Super Big Gulp while they buy their groceries at 10 pm? Are they not the same people who are picking their kids up from daycare at 7 pm working service-oriented, hourly wage, poor-benefit jobs - or two even jobs - and are drinking those Big Gulps just to stay awake because the quality of life for the low-income American worker has deteriorated so significiantly?  Has anyone ever considered that many of the people drinking these sugary drinks have very limited dollars and are drinking their lunches?  How much does an organic lactose-free sugar free Kambucha Tea from Whole Foods cost?

If you care about what's happening to the People of Walmart, go in their neighborhoods, gas stations, and day care centers and get a real sense of how difficult life has become for this demographic.  Get out of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and walk the streets and talk to the people.  As yourself if changing human behavior really so simple as imposing a sales tax on goods.

But then again, what else should we expect from an medical organization based in the state with the highest sales tax in the US?


Update 26 Jun 2012:

The Official AMA policy that was ultimately adopted states the following:

"Our American Medical Association (AMA) recognizes the complexity of factors contributing to the obesity epidemic and the need for a multifaceted approach to reduce the prevalence of obesity and improve public health. A key component of such a multifaceted approach is improved consumer education on the adverse health effects of excessive consumption of beverages containing added sweeteners. Taxes on beverages with added sweeteners are one means by which consumer education campaigns and other obesity-related programs could be financed in a stepwise approach to addressing the obesity epidemic. (New HOD Policy)

2. Where taxes on beverages with added sweeteners are implemented, the revenue should be used primarily for programs to prevent and/or treat obesity and related conditions, such as educational ad campaigns and improved access to potable drinking water, particularly in schools and communities disproportionately effected by obesity and related conditions, as well as on research into population health outcomes that may be affected by such taxes. (New HOD Policy)

3. That our AMA advocate for continued research into the potentially adverse effects of long-term consumption of non-caloric sweeteners in beverages, particularly in children and adolescents. (Directive to Take Action)"

As ultimately passed, the policy and directive falls short of suggesting that taxes be imposed on soft drinks as I suggested.  I regret the confusion that I may have caused.  Still, I remain puzzled why taxes on soft drinks are even part of a "stepwise approach to addressing the obesity epidemic" when no data exist that demonstrate taxes on anything facilitate weight loss of any kind. 


Anonymous said...

What a bunch of clowns.


DocBastard said...

I admit that the tax may not actually cause people to lose weight either directly or indirectly, nor will it likely cause people to opt for the smaller cup. But the revenue raised by the people who buy these drinks could be used for education, public health programs, or any number of worthy causes. I'm no big fan of new taxes, but if I were in charge I'd double or triple the tax on cigarettes. Now THAT would get people's attention.

Anonymous said...

Once again, we need a government solution for a government created problem. These are NOT sugary drinks. This is HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP which is not metabolized like sucrose. The federal government subsidizes the corn industry and the soft drink makers profit tremendously. Never in the history of the world have obesity rates along with diabetes increased so dramatically. This is mainly in the US where sucrose has been replaced by HFCS. The greatest experiment on the population of the country by our government.

Once again, the AMA has completely missed the boat. Another misdiagnosis. Where are the trial lawyers when you need them?

Tishrei said...

I was just reading this article

which discusses the tax on soft drinks.

The article stated: “But would these taxes reduce weight? Results show that because of switching from SSBs to other beverages, the effect on total calories and weight is relatively small.

A tax that raises SSB prices by 20 percent generates a daily average reduction of 6.9 calories. Over the course of a year, this equates to no more than 0.7 pounds per household member. A 40 percent tax would reduce daily calories by 12.5 calories and generate annual weight losses of up to 1.3 pounds per person per year.” The money generated by this tax would be $1.5 BILLION per year if taxed at 20% and if raised by 40% it would generate $2.5 BILLION per year, cost to average household of about $28.

The folks that are most affected by this, the poor. The article stated:

“The researchers also found that nearly all of the weight losses were generated from middle income groups. "Higher income groups can afford to pay the tax so they are unaffected, and lower income groups likely avoid the effects of the tax by purchasing generic versions, waiting for sales, buying in bulk, or by other cost-saving strategies,"

This is not about weight loss, it is about the revenue generated. As you pointed out, taxing cigarettes has not stopped folks from that nasty habit.

Keith said...

My goodness Wes!

You are starting to sound more like a socialist!

I would agree that we should first stop subsidizing the high fructose corn syrup enterprise which is what mostly goes into these drinks (more equitable than a tax I would say).

We have a history of taxing things that are ultimately bad for one to use, or behaviors that are considered bad (using tobacco , alcohol, or gambling as the best examples), so taxing over consumption of calories would seem rational. But large soda taxation would seem to do little to fix this issue and likely just push people to consume other forms of high carb foods. It would seem better to push the government farm subsidies away from corn and to the production of fresh fruits and veggies. This would help these lower income citizens to buy more healthy food choices.

Anonymous said...

Does soda tax impact on population weight? Emphatically, ... NO information! (Maybe need a multi-center, prospective, double-blinded, high cost (to taxpayers) study)

Although the impact of soft drink taxes on population weight is small in magnitude, a more complete evaluation of the effectiveness of this policy would compare a wider array of outcomes to the costs of these taxes. Reducing soft drink consumption may lead to improvement in other areas of health, including dental health (WHO, 2003). Additionally, an increase in the soft drink tax of this size would likely raise considerable revenue for the federal and state governments. The downside of the policy of increasing taxes of soft drinks is the likelihood that the tax is regressive.