Tax on Sugary Beverages Will Help Reduce High Rates of Obesity in Erie County, Protect Health Care Services

U. of Buffalo Study Finds Taxes Effective in Reducing Consumption of Unhealthy Foods

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 16, 2010) - During a visit to Erie County today State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said passage of a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages is needed now to help reduce high obesity rates and protect critical health care jobs.

"More than 61 percent of Erie County adults are overweight or obese, raising their risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions," said Commissioner Daines. "A third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese across New York State. Added taxes on cigarettes have resulted in a dramatic decrease in smoking rates in this state. The sugary beverage tax will make a major dent in the statewide obesity problem by reducing consumption of high-calorie sugary beverages while provide funding for our critical health care industry."

The tax would provide $450 million in State support for health care services this year, with $1 billion provided for a full fiscal year. The health care industry projects a loss of 29,000 jobs if the sugary beverage tax is not passed by the State Legislature.

"State legislators who oppose the tax need to be asked what they are doing to address high rates of obesity and overweight in their districts and how they will replace the tax revenue or cut services," said Dr. Daines. "The sugary beverage tax provides a triple play: it will reduce obesity, protect health care services, and reduce spending for obesity-related conditions over time."

Dr. Daines cited a large body of scientific evidence that sodas and other sugary beverages are the leading food group contributing to weight gain. Research also shows that increasing the cost of these beverages through an excise tax will encourage consumers to switch to lower-cost, lower-calorie beverages like water, low-fat milk and diet soda pop.

A recent study conducted by three researchers in the Department of Pediatrics of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo found that a tax that increased the price of foods by 10 percent reduced total calories purchased by about 7 percent. The researchers concluded: "These results favor taxes as a way to reduce caloric intake." (The Influence of Taxes and Subsidies on Energy Purchased in an Experimental Purchasing Study, Psychological Science, February 26, 2010).

New York's penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugary beverages is projected to reduce New Yorkers' consumption of sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks by up to 15 percent, reducing weight gain and risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Dr. Daines said that reports from the beverage lobby that the tax will cause job losses in the beverage industry are unfounded scare tactics. "The beverage industry is well positioned with numerous zero- and low-calorie drinks produced, bottled, distributed and sold by the same businesses," he said. He noted that PepsiCo, Coca Cola and Snapple offer a combined 129 beverages that would not be affected by the tax.

"The tax won't cause job losses, but the beverage industry's own actions to increase their profits through efficiencies, such as buying out bottling plants, could result in job reductions," Dr. Daines said. He cited a recent Associated Press article that reported that PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are buying out bottling plants to "slash costs" and give them more control over distribution so they can "rapidly swap out the drinks they're putting on store shelves to accommodate shifting consumer tastes."

"New Yorkers are not going to stop drinking beverages, but the price increase will encourage them to purchase lower-cost, healthier alternatives sold by the same companies," said Dr. Daines. "The beverage industry promotes education as an option because they know we can't compete with the over $2 billion a year they spend on advertising to encourage people to consume more and more of their beverages."

Dr. Daines noted that the high calories contained in sugary beverages turn into fat in the body because it is virtually impossible to burn off all the calories. "Teens who drink sugary beverages get an average of 360 calories from them each day – an amount they would have to walk three and a half miles to burn off."

Sugary beverages are unique in that they don't fill people up or displace other foods people consume, Dr. Daines said. As a result, people still feel hungry after drinking sugary beverages and end up consuming too many calories over the course of the day, adding on extra pounds.

"As a physician who practiced medicine for over 20 years in New York State, I have personally witnessed the increase in obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, kidney and heart disease," said Dr. Daines. "It is heart wrenching to inform a patient he must have a leg amputated or go on dialysis as a result of diabetes. It's time to take decisive action to stop and reverse the obesity epidemic by adopting a tax on sugary beverages."

Supporters of the tax include over 100 health care and public health groups, including Healthcare Association of New York State, Healthcare Trustees of New York State, Greater New York Hospital Association, Medical Society of the State of New York, American Academy of Pediatrics, New York State Academy of Family Physicians, New York State Association of County Health Officials, New York State Nurses Association, New York State Public Health Association, New York Academy of Medicine, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children's Defense Fund, Citizens Committee for Children, Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies, Hunger Action Network of NYS, and National Action Against Obesity.

For a complete list of supporters or to sign up to support the tax, visit the New York Academy of Medicine website.