If you’ve ever thought it’s cheaper to eat unhealthy than healthy, you’re not wrong. In 2016, Philadelphia passed a soda tax to curb sugar consumption with D.C. passing similar law earlier this month. But lawmakers should know that soda taxes don’t work, as people find ways around them and does little to promote public health. In fact, the issue is bigger than city taxes.
It’s no secret the farming industry is overloaded with subsidies. From wheat, soy, and corn, the government for decades has used taxpayer dollars to the detriment of public health. Not only do subsidies inflate an industry that doesn’t need the aid it also lowers the price of soda, the very thing the government is working against. If lawmakers were serious about curbing soda consumption, they would be wise to end farm subsidies.
Soda taxes, which have become popular in cities across the nation, attempt to increase public health, but rarely succeed. After Philadelphia passed its soda tax, researchers from Stanford University found that there was no reduction in calorie or sugar intake as people were still able to travel outside the city to get their soft drinks.
Furthermore, the soda tax in Philadelphia didn’t even include every sugary drink. According to a list of taxed beverages, apple and orange juice are exempt, despite having extremely high levels of sugar. One serving of Minute Maid orange juice for instance has a whooping 45 grams of sugar while its apple juice has a higher concentration of fructose than Coke and Pepsi (the only drinks to surpass Minute maid are Mug’s root beer and Mountain Dew).
But at least the sugar in juice is healthy right? Not quite.
Barry Popkin, a leading obesity researcher and professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that, “fruit juice is as bad as sugar-sweetened beverages for its effects on our health.”
If the government is really intent on curbing soda consumption, they shouldn’t make it so cheap in the first place. Every year, the government shells out billions of dollars to subsidize crops and the effects are anything but beneficial. High fructose corn syrup, which comes from corn, is the sweetener in most soft drinks in America, yet due to its artificially low cost, it’s one of the reasons why soda is cheaper than water.
But the problem expands past picking and choosing which sugary drinks to tax. The Center for Disease Control reports that one in three Americans will eat fast food in a given day. From milkshakes, French fries, and hot dogs, there is a plethora of foods that are just as bad for one’s diet yet it’s only soda that is under fire. Like soda, these foods are also subsidized, making it cheaper than it should be for the public to consume.
Since 1995, $81.7 billion went to subsidize corn while less than 1 billion went to fruits and vegetables. According to the Times, “compared to people who ate the least amount of subsidized food, the people who ate the most had a 37% higher risk of being obese.”
Becoming healthy is hard work. It’s especially hard when the system is actively making it harder than it should be. As cities pass soda taxes to lower consumption, they should realize where the problem stems from. Not only does the government make soda incredibly cheap through subsidies, but then it taxes the people when they buy the cheaper option. As Americans try to ditch soft drinks, let’s remember to ditch subsidies and soda taxes as well.