MHA Focuses Attention on Zero-Value Beverages

Sugary drinks that have no nutritional value and are known to increase Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are being targeted in proposed legislation that MHA strongly supports.

“An Act to Promote Healthy Alternatives to Sugary Drinks,” sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton) would implement a tiered-tax on non-alcoholic sugar-sweetened beverages based upon the drink’s sugar content. Proceeds from the tax would help fund a variety of community health initiatives.

“Sugary drinks are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet,” said MHA’s V.P. of Clinical Affairs Patricia Noga, R.N. “Sugary drinks, unlike junk foods which may contribute some nutrition to the diet, are just ‘empty’ calories. To make matters worse, sugary drinks result in proven harm, with consumption directly linked to expensive, chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The bill recommends three tiers of taxation: drinks with little or no added sugars (7.5 grams of sugar per 12 ounces) will not be taxed at all; drinks with moderate amounts (7.5 to 30 grams) of added sugars will be subject to a 1-cent-per-ounce tax; and drinks with 30-plus grams per 12 ounces would face a 2-cent-per-ounce assessment. Beverages consisting of 100% natural fruit or vegetable juice with no added sugars would be exempt from the tax.

How much is 7.5 grams of sugar? About 1.5 teaspoons. How much sugar does a 12 ounce can of Coca Cola have? About 39 grams or about 9.3 teaspoons.

In the national discussion over sugary drink taxes, opponents often contend that poorer communities will be harmed by increased drink prices.  But proponents note that beverage companies often spend a disproportionate amount of advertising dollars marketing sugary drinks to poorer communities. In fact, studies have shown lower-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods had more outdoor ads for sugary drinks than lower-income and higher-income white neighborhoods.  In these same neighborhoods, there is a disproportionately high rate of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases that are brought on, in part, by consuming sugary drinks. The revenue from the proposed legislation’s tiered tax on sugary drinks could be one of the most effective policy strategies to achieve health equity. Optimally, the law could encourage the beverage industry to reformulate their products to reduce added sugars, thereby improving public health.