Public Health

Time For A Sugar Tax To Fight Childhood Obesity?

Nearly one in six kids in this country is obese, and it's high time for local governments to take action about the country's childhood weight problem, says a report just out from the Institute of Medicine.

an overweight boy eyes fruit. i i

Healthy choices can be hard. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com
an overweight boy eyes fruit.

Healthy choices can be hard.

iStockphoto.com

Parents, it seems, can only do so much to promote their children's health. So community measures are needed, a panel of experts says. The list of options from the IOM includes some that nobody could question, such as making sure water fountains are available in public places and that parks are safe and attractive.

Others are a little more provocative, such as taxing junk food, including sugary soda, and banning advertising for those products in areas where kids hang out.

Eduardo Sanchez, Chief Medical Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and chairman of the IOM panel, told Reuters the report represents a "menu of options" not an absolute prescription to be followed in every case. Sanchez used to run Texas' health department.

Thomas Frieden, the activist New York City health commissioner who's now in charge of the CDC, and a colleague made the case for a soda tax in the New England Journal of Medicine a few months ago. "Taxes on tobacco products have been highly effective in reducing consumption, and data indicate that higher prices also reduce soda consumption," they wrote. Levying "a penny-per-ounce excise tax" on sugary drinks could cut consumption by more than 10%.

It may seem a bit Big Brotherish to some, though, and the IOM report acknowledges, "legal issues need to be considered in any restriction of advertising efforts or imposition of food and beverage taxes."

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