New York’s Governor, David Patterson recently proposed a tax on non-diet soft drinks. No doubt it would succeed as a revenue generator for the state, but would it work as a way to sway behavior?
Its been widely reported that healthier food choices – fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, organic dairy products, etc – cost significantly more to buy than the more heavily processed “unhealthy” foods. As a guy who does his own grocery shopping and in-home meal preparation, I can tell you this is true. This disparity in the cost of “good” foods versus “bad” foods is why statistical rates of obesity are higher in lower income populations than in wealthier populations. But this inequity alone isn’t the sole culprit behind obesity. The growing pervasiveness of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in prepared foods and soft beverages is another likely culprit, packing far more caloric punch than its predecessors in the sweeteners department. New York’s Governor, David Patterson recently proposed a tax on non-diet soft drinks. Full sugar sodas, packed with HFCS , are another acknowedged contributor to the obesity epidemic; especially among children/teens. Although Governor Patterson positioned this proposal as a means for “encouraging more healthy food choices” amongst New Yorkers, it is clear that as the executive of a state teetering on bankruptcy, any new tax tied to a rosy, public-health cover story would be an attractive idea to float. No doubt it would succeed as a revenue generator for the state, but would it work as a way to sway behavior? Significant taxes have been levvied by both New York and New Jersey on the sale of tobacco. Cigarettes now cost close to $10 per pack. And while greater public awareness campaigns publicizing the health risks of smoking have contributed to the reduction of smokers’ ranks, there are still plenty of folks willing to pony $10 for a pack of cancer sticks. Did overweight folks embarrassed into paying for a second seat on Southwest Airlines flights decide to lose weight as a result? Or did they simply find a different airline to patronize? I am not sure whether or not it is sensible to try and legislate good behavior or even to promote monetary penalties on those whose behavior doesn’t meet some nebulous standard of “good” -whether in terms of health choices or in any other way. What do you think?