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MADISON, Wi. – A study out of UW Madison’s La Follete
School of Public Affairs finds extra taxes on soda do not have a direct impact
on obesity rates.


The lead researcher on the study, Jason Fletcher, said
while the taxes do affect how much people drink, they do not have an impact on
caloric intake.  The study focused on
soda taxes implemented in the 1990’s in states like Ohio and Arkansas.


Dr. Zorba Pastor at Dean Clinic in Oregon said even if
people drink less pop, they’re likely reaching for beverages with the same
amount of sugar and calories, especially when it comes to children.


“Kids can go and drink other sugary drinks like grapefruit
juice or orange juice that basically have just as many calories as soda,”
Pastor said.


Pastor pointed out obesity has actually increased since
the introduction of diet soda, and there is something about soft drinks that
gets people hooked.


“I think people become kind of habituated and addicted to
soda,” Pastor said.


Taxes on other substances people tend to get hooked on
have proven successful, like taxes on tobacco products.


Health First Wisconsin’s Executive Director Maureen
Busalacchi fought for those taxes in the Badger state and said the efforts to
lower tobacco use have been “wildly successful”.


“There is no safe level of tobacco use, period,”
Busalacchi said.  “And as I said, soda
consumption on a moderate basis from time to time is not really problematic.”


Busalacchi said there are too many alternatives to soft
drinks to see a real health impact, while there are no true alternatives to
tobacco.  In addition, the price of a
pack of cigarettes went up enough to discourage people from purchasing them.  She said the soda taxes the study looked at
were too low to deter soft drink consumers.


Busalacchi added any legislation to tax sugary beverages
should also include an education component.


“If you're going to raise the price of the tax, we also
need to make sure there's assistance for folks so that they can get, so they
understand why they might want to make a different choice,” Busalacchi
explained, “and we're working with our kids to make sure they understand what
soda can do to you in large quantities.”


Pator agreed the tax on soda would have to be significant
to make a dent in the obesity problems that surround overconsumption.


“When you look at tobacco, there's no doubt when you
increase the price of tobacco prices, that has really made a difference in
curbing consumption,” Pastor explained. 
“But if you really wanted to curb consumption on sugary soda, you would
need more than a five cent tax.  You'd
probably have to add a 25 or 50 cent tax or a dollar tax to actually do it.”


Fletcher said there are no signs of Wisconsin adopting a
soda tax, but legislators in Illinois are considering charging extra for all
sugary drinks.  He suggested lawmakers
and health experts rethink the meaning of success when it comes to a soda tax,
considering the decrease in soda consumption as a victory rather than striving
for a reduction in obesity. 


Fletcher also said this study calls for a deeper
evaluation of what might work to bring down obesity rates and evaluate more
comprehensive strategies for that.


Busalacchi agreed, saying the approach to combatting
should be more holistic than just eliminating soda.


“We have a ways to go in figuring out how do we best do
this, and like I said,  I think focusing
on the positive is a great first step.  I
don't know if it's going to solve our problems,” Busalacchi said.


UW study: Soda tax does not decrease obesity rates Monday, March 24 2014, 10:28 PM CDT

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