Beat it

Beat it

The battle for a soda/sugar tax

Tax on Sugary Foods Proposed by U.S. Panel to Fight Obesity
Alan BjergaDoni

   (Bloomberg) -- Americans should pay taxes on sugary sodas and snacks as a way to cut down on sweets, though they no longer need to worry about cholesterol, according to scientists helping to revamp dietary guidelines as U.S. obesity levels surge.
The recommendations Thursday from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also call for Americans to reduce meat consumption and to take sustainability into account when dining.
The panel released its report as the Obama administration seeks ways to fight obesity, which now affects more than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“What we’re calling for in the report in terms of innovation and bold new action in health care, in public health, at the community level, is what it’s going to take to try and make a dent on the epidemic of obesity,” committee chairwoman Barbara Millen of Millennium Prevention in Westwood, Massachusetts, said in a telephone interview.
Suggestions by the nonpartisan panel of academics and scientists help shape school lunch menus and the $6 billion a year Women, Infants and Children program, which serves more than 8 million Americans buying groceries from retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co.
Diet, Nutrition
The recommendations went to the the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that later this year will issue guidelines used to create the government’s icon for healthy diets, currently a dinner plate that replaced the widely used food pyramid.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the two agencies will focus on diet and nutrition recommendations, and he declined to comment on any policy initiatives such as a tax.
“I don’t want anything that would undercut the legitimacy, credibility and acceptance of the guidelines,” he said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
The law that set up the panel requires the final product to be “about nutrition, and it’s about diet,” he said. “That’s what these guidelines are supposed to be, and as far as I’m concerned, they will be.”
Food Lobbies
About half of all U.S. adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases relating to poor diets and physical inactivity such as hypertension, diabetes and diet-related cancers, according to the government. More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of youth are overweight or obese.
Soda makers and packaged-food companies including PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc., Kraft Foods Group Inc., Mondelez International Inc. and Hershey Co. all fell when the report was released. Most later recovered.
The proposals will set up a fight with food lobbies worried about how their products are treated in the final guidance from the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.
The Obama administration already has landed in food fights over first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity initiative, which encourages healthy eating. Republicans have said Obama-backed nutrition rules rob school districts of flexibility.
In what would be the panel’s first target on “added sugars” from food processing, the group sets a level of no more than 10 percent of all calories, down from the average 13 percent now consumed by U.S. adults. The recommendation comes after studies tying snacks and sugary beverages to high obesity rates.
Public Health
Local governments have deemed sugars a public-health threat. U.S. obesity almost tripled from the 1960s to 2010 as Americans consumed more sugar. Efforts to encourage better diets, from raising taxes on sodas to imposing limits on super-size beverages -- backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP -- have failed at ballot boxes and in courtrooms.
Still, Berkeley, California, voters overwhelmingly approved the nation’s first tax on sodas last year, an approach in which the panel finds promise. Soda taxes are worth exploring, potentially as a way to subsidize healthier foods, the panel said.
Soda Tax
“Higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption,” according to the advisory panel. “Using the revenues from the higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes for nutrition health promotion efforts or to subsidize fruits and vegetables could have public health benefits.”
The panel’s cholesterol findings reflect mounting evidence that eating foods high in the substance, such as eggs and shrimp, has only a small effect on levels in blood and an insignificant relationship with heart disease. The 2010 guidelines said people should consume less than 300 milligrams a day of cholesterol.
“The United States is the last country to have specific recommendations for limiting dietary cholesterol,” David Klurfeld, a nutritionist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in a phone interview. “All the countries that used to have that have eliminated them over the years.”
As cholesterol has become less of a worry, consumption of cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs has rebounded. Meanwhile, industries whose products are targeted by the panel become worried how the recommendations may harm sales, said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University.
Industry Pushback
“That’s where the major impact is seen,” Nestle said. “The food industry is frantic about the guidelines. They don’t want anything in there that says anything about eating less of their products. That’s their concern more than anything else.”
The meat industry’s worry that the final guidelines may discourage consumption of low-fat products turned out to be unfounded. The document states that “lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern.”
The panel’s guidance, which recommends against red meats while endorsing leaner cuts, is contradictory, said Shalene McNeill, nutrition scientist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Washington. “Lean meat is red meat,” she said. “It is misleading to conclude that a healthy dietary pattern should be lower in red meat.”
‘Don’t Budge’
Recommendations on sodium and fats echo calls in the 2010 guidelines for adults to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium and less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat per day. “I don’t think our understanding of healthful diets has changed, basically,” Nestle said. “Researchers focus on the details -- those get increasingly confusing -- but the basic principles don’t budge.”
The proposals, which include the panel’s first comments on sustainability, took a wider view of nutrition than in previous years, said Alice Lichtenstein, the committee vice chairwoman.
“We put much more of an emphasis on healthy dietary patterns as opposed to individual components of the diet,” Lichtenstein, a nutrition professor at Tufts University in Boston, said in a phone interview. “When we focus on individual components of the diet, whether it be carbs or fat, we usually end up going astray.”
The sustainability initiative endorses plant-based diets and urges more consumption of farm-raised fish as ways to alleviate stress on the environment. A coalition of 49 health, environment and animal welfare groups including Friends of the Earth and the American Public Health Association applauded the effort, saying in a letter to the secretaries of Agriculture and HHS that they should include such recommendations in their final product.
Sustainability Effort
“The inclusion of sustainability criteria in the Dietary Guidelines’ recommendations is a huge step forward for human and planetary health,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth in Berkeley.
The idea has already sparked action in Congress: An appropriations bill passed last year includes a nonbinding provision telling the USDA and HHS to “only include nutrition and dietary information.”
HHS, which will lead the writing of the guidelines, and the USDA jointly appointed the committee, then will act on its recommendations after considering public comment for 45 days. Final guidelines are to be released by the end of this year.
To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Bjerga in Washington at; Doni Bloomfield in New York at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at Steve Geimann, Elizabeth Wasserman

Health Experts Recommend Sugar Tax To Fight Obesity
By Dr. Mallika Marshall, WBZ-TV
BOSTON (CBS) – New recommendations on a way to curb obesity levels in the U.S. are bound to cause some controversy. As Dr. Mallika Marshall reports, a government  advisory committee says putting a tax on sugary treats could make a difference and that’s not the only advice.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, made up of fourteen health experts, just released a report on how the U.S. government should tackle the nation’s obesity problem. The committee only makes recommendations, not policy, but the experts say we should consume no more than 10% of our daily  calories from refined sugar, and one suggestion was to tax foods and drinks high in sugar.
Dr. Barbara Millen, the chairperson of the advisory committee, says, “We (in the report) discuss examples of different strategies from consumer education to counseling to also the potential for taxation which has been used as a strategy, not simply for sugar consumption but in countries around the world for directing food  choices and food purchasing activities of consumers.”
Other notable recommendations? Eat less red and processed meats, and the committee placed an emphasis on sustainability, like eating farm-raised fish.
As it  stands, 70% of adults and a third of all kids are overweight or obese in this country.

Proposed federal soda tax is sweet vindication for Bloomberg
By Marisa Schultz
WASHINGTON — Mike Bloomberg might get to sink sugary soda after all.
An influential nutritional panel sounded the alarm Thursday against sugary drinks and recommended taxing sodas to help stem America’s obesity problem.
“Higher sugar-sweetened-beverage taxes may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened-beverage consumption,” the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee said in a 571-page report Thursday.
The nutrition-focused panel even suggested that soda-tax revenues could subsidize much healthier fruits and vegetables.
The heavy-duty federal recommendation was vindication for Bloomberg.
The former mayor tried but failed to impose taxes and portion limits on sugary drinks.
“This esteemed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has caught up with New York City,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, Bloom¬berg’s health commissioner who was the architect behind the anti-soda push.
“I absolutely think that we were right. We saw evidence that made us very alarmed in those days and that’s why we acted. And the evidence has only gotten stronger ... The sugary drinks really are a health risk.
Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, add more whole grains and limit red meats, according to the report.
At the same time, the panel lifted its suggested 300-milligram limit on dietary cholesterol — good news for egg lovers. And for coffee addicts, the experts said moderate caffeine intake — three to five cups per day — is OK.
The experts warned against added sugar, commonly found in soda, sweet treats and snack foods, as well as mixing energy drinks and alcohol.
Obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease are ¬“major public health concerns,” the panel wrote in explaining the need for community action.
Bloomberg waged war on sugary drinks by first pushing Albany to pass a soda tax. When that failed, he tried to ban 16-ounce-plus servings of sugary drinks in restaurants.
But in 2013, a judge threw out the super-sized ban in a bubble-busting defeat for the mayor.
Since then, Bloomberg has taken his crusade elsewhere, bankrolling successful efforts in Mexico and Berkely, Calif.
The panel’s recommendations now go to the US departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that will develop new federal nutrition guidelines by year’s end.

‘Sugar tax’ lauded by Connecticut health advocates, opposed by food industry
By Cara Rosner,

A proposed “sugar tax” on sweetened drinks and candy was praised by health advocates but slammed by representatives of the food and beverage industry at a public hearing this week.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, would impose a tax of 1 cent per ounce on soft drinks — including sweetened teas, energy drinks and soda — and candies that are high in sugar and calories.
It was among various bills discussed at a Committee on Children public hearing Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building. While the tax would affect consumers of all ages, sugary drinks and foods often are marketed to children.

The so-called sugar tax would help decrease state residents’ consumption of sugary drinks and foods, which would reduce rates of obesity and other related health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, said Roberta Friedman, director of public policy at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.