At the Colorado Health Symposium last week, Kelly Brownell, godfather of the much-reviled “Twinkie tax,” surprised exactly no one by advocating a national excise tax on soda. As director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, he’s been pushing regulation of food companies for years – whether he has the science to back up his proposals or not. But as other recent reports show, his lack of trust in Americans’ ability to make healthy choices is misplaced.
In a report from the symposium, Brownell calls personal responsibility an exercise in failure:
“This has been a 30-year experiment in the United States, and it's failing miserably,” he said.
Instead, Brownell claimed change should come through economics — more affordable healthy foods — environment — what's considered healthy — and regulation and legislation. Brownell said a hypothetical national penny-per-ounce tax on sodas is calculated to decrease consumption by 10 – 23 percent, and estimated to reduce health care costs by $50 billion over 10 years. In Colorado alone, Brownell said, soda tax revenues are estimated to be able to rake in $198 million a year.
Food companies need to be regulated, he said, just as tobacco companies are. They can't be trusted to make changes on their own.
Without commenting on the much-disputed reality of a soda tax’s effectiveness, we think Brownell doth protest too much. He has admitted his own issues with overindulging in snack foods, but that doesn’t mean everyone in America has a similar vice. Far from it, as new research suggests.
A newly published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Americans are eating 3.5 percent fewer calories today than they were in 2000, and have cut their sugar intake by six teaspoons per day. That’s a voluntary change that ordinary people have made to benefit their health.
So why is Brownell so certain that food companies and consumers can’t be trusted and are “failing miserably” to make the right choices?