Politicians are usually at their most creative when the opportunity for raking in money is at hand. Now state legislators have a new idea: Tax soft drinks to make Kansans slim down. But in reality, it's just another nutty scheme by politicians to shake $90 million out of Sunflower State residents while creating a pretense of dealing with serious issues.
Public health activists have declared sugar-sweetened beverages — soft drinks, fruit juice, sports drinks and even chocolate milk — a supposed menace in an effort to get the government to tax them. State Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, has downed this activist Kool-Aid in claiming that adding a tax on soft drinks for every teaspoon of sugar they contain will do our bodies good.
There's no convincing evidence that "fat taxes" on food or drinks are an effective way to force weight loss. Writing in the Review of Agricultural Economics, a team of researchers determined that a small tax on snacks "would have very small dietary impacts." As for a larger tax, it "would not appreciably affect" the average person's diet.
Moreover, taxing soft drinks may even be counterproductive in reducing the number of calories people consume through what they drink. Researchers writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine noted that taxing soft drinks may result in people simply substituting other beverages that are still high in calories but remain affordable. For example, orange juice and 2 percent milk —which would not be taxed under Vratil's plan — contain more calories per ounce than cola. If the Vratil tax really worked, it could cause an increase in consumption of these other beverages, resulting in people consuming more calories than before.
Vratil's assumptions are also off-target. Because many things contribute to obesity, no one kind of food or drink — including soft drinks — is uniquely responsible for weight gain. An October study by University of Minnesota researchers discovered no association between the consumption of sugared drinks and adolescent weight gain over a five-year period. This work builds on a solid foundation of previous research coming to similar conclusions.
What we put in our mouths is our own business. Creating phony scientific consensus for the idea that soft drinks are a singular cause of obesity is the tactic for getting away from personal responsibility and nudging us toward certain dietary choices — namely, choices made by the "anti" activists and nanny politicians.
Blaming one kind of food or drink for obesity is like saying a baseball game was won or lost on a single pitch. It's simplistic to a fault.