Childhood obesity is truly an epidemic. More than one in six children in the United States are obese, a rate that has tripled in the past 30 years. Childhood obesity is linked to a number of debilitating and costly diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, several kinds of cancer, and other chronic conditions.
A significant body of research has demonstrated that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) — such as sodas, sports drinks, and sweetened teas — is strongly linked to increased obesity in children. This is why various proposals to tax SSBs as a means of reducing consumption and raising revenues for initiatives to fight childhood obesity have been the focus of intense discussion in 14 states during 2011 alone.
A recent poll commissioned by The Boston Foundation and NEHI as part of their Healthy People/Healthy Economy coalition’s work found that 69 percent of Massachusetts voters would support applying the state sales tax to soda and candy (these items are currently exempt) if the revenues from the tax were used to fund childhood obesity reduction efforts. The Alliance for a Healthier Vermont also recently conducted a poll that found a similar result, with nearly 60 percent of Vermont residents expressing support for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on SSBs.
These poll results should encourage all of us who are deeply concerned about the childhood obesity epidemic to press forward with taxation proposals and continue to work to strategically engage the public about the importance of using a variety of policy tools to make progress in the fight against childhood obesity. Our children deserve a healthy future and taxing SSBs is one important way to help ensure this. These polls suggest that the public thinks so as well.
—Patrick M. Tigue, Children’s Health Care Coordinator New England Alliance for Children’s Health