I’m not into politics. I am into finding cures for obesity and improving people’s health. Politics to me is much like the current “proven” world of weight loss and fitness. It features lots of preaching and spinning of facts, with very little in the way of meaningful results to show for it. So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled into San Francisco’s Proposition E, to be voted on next week, which includes a “Soda Tax”
This measure, which would impose a $0.02 per ounce tax on sugary beverages in San Francisco, was introduced by city supervisor Scott Wiener. The tax would amount to a 24 cent tax on every can of soda sold. The tax was estimated to bring in a revenue of about $31 million per year.The proceeds of the Proposition E tax would be earmarked for “nutrition, physical activity, and health programs in public schools, parks, and elsewhere.” The purpose of taxing SSBs is to make San Franciscans healthier by discouraging consumption 24 of the main source of added dietary sugars, and by raising funds to support health promotion and 25 obesity prevention, particularly targeting children in San Francisco’s low-income communities.
Apparently there is a similar measure on the Ballot in Berkeley, Prop D. These ordinances cite “research” and health agencies that defend the claims of Proposition E with careful phrasing such as “research shows” or “there’s a link” to disease and obesity due to the consumption of sugary beverages. I’d like to present some science that shows their conclusions are very wrong. Here’s are 5 key points that OVERWHELMING obesity and health research shows are far more accurate and relevant to making an informed decision Propositions’ D+ E:
1) PROP D + E WILL CONTRIBUTE TO AN INCREASE IN OBESITY AND REDUCED HEALTH OVER 5-10 YEARS.
Proposition E encourages the forced reduction or elimination of a particular food that dieters currently enjoy. Research does support a possible short term benefit of reduced consumption if it passes. However, the only results we can count on if there is reduced consumption in the first year is supporters of Proposition E claiming success that the measure is “working”. This is the exact behavior dieters on a restrictive weight loss diet display when they believe they are successful using their restrictive diets because they see weight loss in the first year.
Sadly, Prop D + E supporters and 1 year dieters would be very premature in their celebrations. They would be ignoring the more important scientific FACTS. There is absolutely no evidence, none, that any forced restrictions in your diet will lead to weight loss or health improvements over a period of 5 or more years. Restrictive diets produce weight GAIN and reduced health over the 5-10 year period approximately 100% of the time. That is why you see leading obesity experts risking their reputations to make quotes like these:
- Obesity Research Confirms Long-Term Weight Loss Almost Impossible
—CBC News JUNE 2014
…the only effective alternative that we have at present for halting the obesity epidemic is large-scale gastric surgery.”
— Dr. Martijn Katan, New England Journal of Medicine FEB 2009
And these facts don’t even consider that those who reduce their soda consumption will likely replace it with foods that can be even more harmful nutritionally, for example, foods high in both carbohydrates and fats. While there’s no evidence that a “food restriction or fat tax” of any sort helps reduce obesity or improve health, there is evidence to the contrary. The data from 2007 – 2010 clearly show what happened following the 2007 Trans Fat Ban. By 2010 obesity was higher and the use of Cholesterol Medications had increased dramatically.
Therefore, obesity research would suggest that the soda tax could possibly bring short term weight loss and health benefits, it is an approach PROVEN to lead to weight gain and reduced health over a longer period of time.
2) PROPS D+ E ERRONEOUSLY LABELS SUGAR AS “HARMFUL”.
This declarative statement has no basis in scientific fact, and is no more accurate than a claim that “electricity is harmful”. Whle it’s true both sugar and electricity can do great harm, if managed responsibly they can also bring incredible benefits to our lives. Not only is there extensive scientific research in the field of Nutrient Timing that proves the metabolic benefits of sugar at optimal times (before, during and / or after exercise depending on the circumstances), many dieters are able to enjoy sugary products including soda responsibly which helps them enjoy a healthier self-regulated diet that actually has some support for long-term health and weight management success. If there were some assurance that the proceeds from this tax would be used to educate the public including children, and especially the creators and supporters of this bill on the significant health benefits, both physiological and psychological, that can be achieved with the responsible use of sugar, this might be a tax worthy of supporting.
3) SENDING AN AUTHORITATIVE MESSAGE THAT A FOOD MANY SAFELY ENJOY IS “UNHEALTHY” CAN DO GREAT PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM
Telling a dieter that the path to long-term success means giving up or heavily restricting the foods they enjoy in order to achieve health or weight loss benefits is not only a major cause of yo-yo dieting, which is a major factor in causing obesity (multiyear studies PROVE this, they don’t “suggest” it), this approach also creates significant psychological problems. When dieters indulge in foods they have been told by experts are “bad” and “harmful”, they feel guilt and regret. This inevitably leads to feelings of failure. Obesity research proves this not only leads to completely giving up on the restrictive diet, but the conflict created by desiring and ultimately “giving in” and eating foods you believe are harmful leads to great stress and major eating disorders.
4) THE USE OF THE PROCEEDS OF THE SODA TAX FOR “nutrition, physical activity, and health programs in public schools, parks, and elsewhere” WILL ULTIMATELY CAUSE GREAT HARM IN TERMS OF INCREASING OBESITY AND REDUCED HEALTH.
While I have no doubt the supporters of Proposition E have the best of intentions, and it would be wonderful to see kids becoming more active through the use of the funds, the overriding message is still horribly harmful. To reinforce to the public the false assertion that sugar is by definition bad and harmful, and that an effective diet consists of restrictions enforced by others that have been conclusively scientifically proven to be failed methods long-term is simply too harmful in the long run to support. If we hope to make progress in reducing obesity and illnesses like diabetes, we must stop recommending restrictions and plans that research has proven ultimately make these conditions worse!
5) PROPS D + E REPRESENTS AN EFFORT TO CONTROL THE PUBLIC’S BEHAVIOR THAT IS NOT SUPPORTED BY HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS
Once the Government begins levying taxes by deciding arbitrarily a certain food is “healthy” or “unhealthy”, where does this power end? Today it’s sugary drinks, and no research is needed to know there are many in the field of nutrition who would support taxes or bans on all sugar products, certain types of fat and anything they deem as “junk food”. Science tells us the only long-term benefit that would be realized by any such measures being approved is more funds being collected by the government.
History sends an even more important message. Voters should consider the harmful costs of the Government’s intervention efforts with Prohibition of alcohol. Short term successes were claimed which actually led to very harmful unintended consequences such as a dramatic increase in crime, and only after much damage was done, the ultimate repeal of the act, with no meaningful results accomplished whatsoever.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The solution to reducing obesity and major health issues will never be found by politicians and short sighted health and nutrition professionals proposing taxes to encourage restrictive, punitive approaches that at best will produce short term results, and completely reverse themselves long term. Science and research is clear a new paradigm is needed if we have any hope of reversing the obesity and health epidemic and that we must abandon the failed approaches Propositions’ D + E encourage. Extensive education of our youth and a “re-education” for politicians and experts who support approaches that are proven failures long-term is the only path where meaningful, successful results can be achieved.
Note: Detailed research and specific clinical studies to back all representations in the above information available upon request. Email