Should junk food be taxed?

When I was a little girl, I have vivid memories of walking to the local convenience store with my granddad in tiny Gadsden, TN  just so he could buy me a Coke. Nothing tasted better than that bottle of sugary syrup, and that insignificant, yet cherished, time with my “Nannanny” will always have an imprint in my mind.

Roy Williams, my favorite coach in America, had a similar childhood memory, captured in this wonderful commercial.

Though I revised my beverage of choice to Diet Coke by the time I’d gotten to college, I still buy the occasional Coke to settle an upset tummy, especially after a long run. Likewise, after 24 hours of beverage-free labor with Luke, my first request after he entered the world was a Coke. Nothing EVER tasted so good.

So as the violin plays and the moments of nostalgia continue, how does this headline read?

“Health advocates push for tax on unhealthy foods”

In a report from CBS News this week, it appears that “public health advocates are pushing cities and states to tax fattening, non-nutritious foods, like sugary soda, french fries, and donuts.” To stress the importance of this potential legislation, according to Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a national penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate some $13 billion a year in tax revenues.

Did you read that? A penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate some $13 billion a year in tax revenues!

Though at first glance this sur-charge might seem unfair and obtrusive, it’s really no different that the taxes imposed on cigarette purchases. Though cigarettes are known to cause lung cancer, junk food is known to contribute to obesity, a $100 billion burden on the nation’s healthcare system. Not to mention, research has already shown that junk food is about half a kids’ caloric intake.

The article reminds us that junk food is much less expensive than whole foods – thus helping explain why impoverished Americans resort to buying Happy Meals as opposed to Healthy Meals. Can a tax on such unhealthy choices deter people from buying and eating junk, or is it merely an additional burden on an already troubled population?

I managed to wean myself off soda over the years, and now I scarcely miss it at all. Tap water is far less expensive than any sugary beverage, so the choice is easy for me. For those who are still addicted and drink soda as if it’s water, an increase of $.01/ounce translates to a $.72 increase for a six pack of Coke. That might be adequate to deter some people from buying (either that or they’d purchase a 2 gallon bottle which is priced far for efficiently).

Though the laundry list of junk food doesn’t stop at soft drinks, it might be a good place to start. Maybe a small deterrent is noticeable enough to start changing eating habits for the better.

What’s your position on the topic?

Melinda Hinson