Could Higher Taxes Make You Healthier?

A group of leading nutritionists and economists out of Yale University think higher taxes could make you healthier.

According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine doctors say, taxing sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas could lead to smaller waistlines and at the same time even save on health care costs.

The study led by Dr. Kelly D. Brownell found, taxing the fat in soft drinks could help reverse the alarming trend of increasing obesity considering intake of sugar-sweetened beverages has increased around the globe. Between 1977 and 2002, the per capita intake of sugary beverages doubled in the united states across all age groups. At highest risk: Children.

The New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Richard Aaines tells FOX news, 34 percent of the kids in this country are obese or overweight. In New York state alone obesity costs $6.1 billion dollars a year in health care costs.

And, he says it's time to do something about it.

For example, tax funds could be used to fund childhood nutrition programs, obesity prevention programs or help support health care for the uninsured.

The study says a national tax of 1 percent per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages would raise $14.9 billion in the first year alone. Taxes on the state level would also generate considerable revenue -- for example, $937 million in New York.

Last winter New York's Gov. David Paterson attempted to reduce the states budget deficit by proposing an 18 percent "fat tax" on any high-calorie soft drink containing less than 70 percent real fruit juice.

That proposal was shot down.

However, this latest report details the economic benefits of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages nationwide. currently, 33 states have sales taxes on soft drinks (mean tax rate, 5.2 percent), but as the report points out, those taxes are too small to affect consumption.

A recent study conducted by the University of Florida on alcoholism put a price of consumption to the test, literally. It found cheap beer made college students drink more.

In other words, when the price of booze goes up, college students drank less of it. With just a 10-cent increase in cost per gram of alcohol -- an increase of $1.40 in the price of a drink-- according to a survey of patrons leaving college area bars in Florida 30 percent of college students were less likely to leave a bar drunk.

But the idea of taxing non-alcoholic sweetened beverages has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many.

One objection is obvious - the argument that taxing one product will not necessarily solve the obesity crisis and many feel it's unfair for those who consume small amounts of such beverages.

The beverage industry is also opposed to the idea given the possible effect on sales.

"A tax will cause real harm to hard-working american families at a time when they are already struggling to stay afloat during a recession," said Susan Neely, president and ceo for the American Beverage Association.

Neely also says taxing only certain beverages is the government's way of undermining personal choice.

"The american public views it as an over-reach when the government tries to tell them what to eat and drink," she said.

With respect to tobacco taxes which aim to reduce smoking related illnesses some researchers argue there is no comparison to a food tax.

"I think steep taxes on foods are problematic, because even 'bad' food is not tobacco," said Dr. David Katz, director of medical studies in public health at Yale University. "Tobacco can be avoided altogether -- and indeed, should be -- and thus, steep taxation is justifiable. food cannot be avoided, so it comes down to choices -- and taxing people into choices is fraught with challenges and hazards."

As for tax payers, a majority find the concept is difficult to swallow.

When the idea was proposed in New York a Quinnipiac University poll showed, 64 percent of New Yorkers opposed Gov. Paterson's plan and only 32 percent were in favor of it. But, when you weigh public health vs. science, medical research shows a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would have strong positive effects on reducing consumption.