Should the Government Impose a Sugar Tax to Curb Obesity?

Should the government regulate the consumption of sugar just like alcohol and tobacco?

In an op-ed entitled, "The Toxic Truth About Sugar" published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt, and Claire Brindis argue that the government should tax sugary foods and control sales to children under 17.

The average U.S. adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association, and teens consume 34 teaspoons. 17% of U.S. children and teens are obese, and the intake of sugar has tripled across the world in the past 50 years. 

The team of researchers form the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) argue that sugar is not just "empty calories," its consumption can lead to the onset of chronic diseases. " …There is nothing empty about these calories. A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills – slowly," they write.

The food industry tries to imply that “a calorie is a calorie. But this and other research suggests there is something different about sugar,” said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

The report suggested that excess sugar can alter metabolism, raise blood pressure, and damage the liver. In addition, sugar can have a significant impact on the brain, and research has suggested that sugar activates the same reward pathways as traditional drugs like morphine or heroin.

The researchers suggest that many of the government-led interventions that have reduced alcohol and tobacco consumption can be models for addressing the sugar problem: levying special sales taxes, controlling access, and tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars. Schmidt said, "We’re not advocating a major imposition of the government into people’s lives. We’re talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose. What we want is to actually increase people’s choices by making foods that aren’t loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get."

Other countries, including France, Greece and Denmark, levy soda taxes, and at least 20 cities and states are considering the concept. 

What do you think? Should the government play a role in regulating Americans' consumption of sugar and sugary drinks? If so, what should be the limits to government intervention?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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