Tax Day, New York City

Tax and Lose (Weight)

A new analysis of potential policies for reducing childhood obesity is generating headlines saying that “Taxing sugary sodas could help fight childhood obesity.” This is one time that the media isn’t hyping what the authors say. In their paper, Kristensen et al follow their hearts and conclude that “a national $0.01/ounce SSB [sugar sweetened beverage] excise tax is the best option.”

We say they’re following their hearts for a couple of reasons. First is that they have no empiric evidence to support their conclusion. They concede this in their methods, saying:

No well-controlled trials were found that directly assessed an excise tax’s impact on youth SSB consumption or the relationship between SSB consumption and childhood obesity.

The second reason is that what is “best” is an inherently subjective judgement of what is most desirable. Even with an abundance of evidence, one must still judge what qualities the heart desires to declare something is “the best option.”

But in this case, we have little evidence and many assumptions.

It’s worth noting that the authors found empiric evidence for one option in this analysis — afterschool physical activity programs. But constrained by hard evidence of a limited effect for afterschool programs, those programs wound up in a tie with the assumed effects of a SSB tax.

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” — John Lennon

Click here to read the study and here to read more from CBS News.

Tax Day, New York City; photograph © Amit Gupta / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.