Given the fact that we are consuming sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) – the single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet – at an average rate of “70,000 ‘empty calories’ per person” per year, we probably should all be obese diabetics by now. Thankfully we aren’t quite yet.
A new Health Affairs study provides a comprehensive analysis of factors at the intersection of SSBs and health. Its authors calculated that slowing SSB consumption by 15 percent through a penny-per-ounce tax could generate $13 billion in revenue and save $17 billion in health care costs over a ten-year period, preventing 2.4 million diabetes person-years, 95,000 coronary heart events, 8,000 strokes and 26,000 premature deaths.
We’ve been down the road of taxing unhealthy foods before. There are pros and cons worth discussing. Bottom line, getting serious about improving health and reducing health care costs includes changing consumption. The greater the number of fronts a given idea can address, the more it deserves our attention. If a penny-per-ounce tax could put the country on a path to evening out imbalances related to food affordability, consumption behavior and healthcare system utilization, then it deserves our reasoned consideration.