AMA Supports Soda Tax to Fight Obesity

The American Medical Association voted to adopt policy that there should be taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, just as they have for tobacco and alcohol.

Sugary sweet beverages are getting a lot of attention recently, including New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg proposed banning extra large sodas at certain venues. And the American Medical Association is stepping up to make its stance known.

The AMA voted today at its annual meeting to adopt policy that there should be taxes on beverages with added sweeteners and those taxes should be used as one way to finance programs to prevent or treat obesity and related conditions.

The soda tax has come up at previous AMA meetings as certain groups called for the tax, but the full association never adopted a policy. The tax is a divisive topic, because although alcohol and cigarette taxes reduced associated unhealthy behaviors, there is no real data to show whether or not a soda tax would affect obesity.

As of July 2011 there were soda taxes in 35 states, but these were flat rates — at an average of 5.2% — which affect wholesalers and producers less than a suggest per ounce tax.

The American Beverage Association responded to the AMA’s vote by arguing that taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages were discriminatory and claiming those taxes as a way to fund anti-obesity programs was “misguided.”

Health Affairs

A study estimated that taxing a penny an ounce on sweetened drinks would reduce the number of obese adults in the U.S. by 1.5%. Over the next decade there would be 95,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease and $17 billion in health-related cost savings.

The taxes would be just one way to fight obesity. Putting the money generated toward funding health programs would only further help improve public health and reduce consumption of sweetened beverages.

"While there is no silver bullet that will alone reverse the meteoric rise of obesity, there are many things we can do to fight this epidemic and improve the health of our nation," AMA board member Alexander Ding, MD, said in a statement. "Improved consumer education on the adverse health effects of excessive consumption of beverages containing added sweeteners should be a key part of any multifaceted campaign to combat obesity."