What Do Dietitians Think About the Soda Tax?

Here, a handful of Philly-area dietitians weigh in what kind of impact they think the soda tax will have on Philadelphians' sugar consumption.

As most of you probably know, Mayor Kenney’s much-talked-about soda tax passed a few weeks back. Over the past six months or so, we’ve heard tons of talk about the soda tax, but we haven’t actually heard much from healthy-eating experts in terms of how they think the soda tax will impact Philadelphians’ sugar consumption. So, we decided to ask a few Philly-area dietitians what they think of the tax. The top takeaways from our talks with them, below.

One thing everyone can agree on: Americans are consuming way too much sugar. Kristin Raebinger RD, LDN points out that the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that less than 10 percent of our daily caloric intake come from added sugars. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that’s less than 50 grams per day. The problem: Many Americans actually consume twice that in a day. And to give you some perspective, a can of Coke alone eats up 75 percent of that daily allowance. Yikes. Nearly all of the dietitians we spoke with were quick to highlight the near-direct link between sugar consumption and health issues like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. The point: Clearly, we need to cut back.

A slightly higher price-tag may make people think twice about buying soda. As registered dietitian and owner of Philly Dietitian Theresa Shank says, if the only way to reach people when it comes to sugar consumption is through their wallets, as with the soda tax, so be it. At least it will make may make them think twice about what they are purchasing. Lisa Laura, RD, echoes this sentiment: “The rising healthcare costs associated with these conditions affect all of us and education alone has not been enough.”

Speaking of education: Education alone may not be enough to get people to cut back on sugar — but the soda tax alone won’t do it either. We need both. Vicki Goodman, MS, RD, LDN, points out that the soda tax may make people think twice about purchasing a sugary beverage, but without increased nutrition education to go along with the tax, who’s to say that it will have any tangible effect on overall consumption of sugar? If the tax causes someone to ditch their Pepsi habit that day, that’s not to say they won’t make up for that sugar loss with a Tastykake. People need to know why they should be consuming less sugar.

Soda should be a treat, anyway. “Most highly taxed food and drinks are not essential for life or health. As individuals, we must learn to re-prioritize what is important: balancing our health.” says Raebinger. Chelsea Natarian, RDN of Jefferson Hospital, argues that soda should be viewed as a treat instead of as a regular part of one’s diet and says, “If you’re consuming enough soda for it [the tax] to have a negative impact on your wallet, I would truthfully suggest coming up with alternative beverages of choice.”

Even if the soda tax doesn’t end up reducing Philadelphians’ sugar intake, at least it’s gotten people talking about sugar consumption and health in general. The rates for obese adults in Philadelphia significantly increased from 2000 to 2010, with 66 percent of adults and 40 percent of children reported as overweight or obese, according to a 2011 report from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “I would hope that public perception about food and drink will shift to one in which health and wellness are a priority,” says Raebinger. In order to get there, anything that serves as an incentive for people to reevaluate their food and drink choices can only be seen as a positive.

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