DC Soda Tax – A Dietitian’s Perspective

DC Soda Tax – A Dietitian’s Perspective

Colleen Gerg, MA, RD

After much controversy, the 6% sales tax on both regular and diet soda, sports and energy drinks took effect in DC on October 1.  Many city officials are skeptical about the likelihood of such a tax promoting healthier drink choices (such as bottled water, tea, coffee and juices) among consumers.

Dietitians have long counseled their clients on the risks of excessive calorie consumption via beverages.  Liquid calories provide neither the same satiety factor nor the nutritional benefits that eating whole foods do.  For many battling obesity, simply cutting out all caloric beverages in favor of plain water can result in significant weight loss.  A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April, 2009) demonstrated that “liquid calorie intake had a stronger impact on weight than solid calorie intake” and that “Among beverages, sugar-sweetened beverages was the only beverages type significantly associated with weight change.”  Researchers added: “Out sturdu supports policy recommendations and public health efforts to reduce intakes of liquid calories, particularly those from sugar-sweetened beverages, in the general population.”

Consumption of liquid calories from beverages has increased in parallel with the obesity epidemic.  But DC’s new soda tax does not include the “King size” smoothies, whipped cream-topped designer coffees or event eh “100% juice” beverages which often provide hundreds of calories in a single serving, simultaneously sabotaging the unsuspecting consumer’s weight loss efforts.

While the “soda tax” may inspire some to pause before purchasing, most dietitians agree that teaching consumers how to eat more healthily through nutrition education, thereby reducing the risk of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke is a more potent health motivator than saving money on a favorite beverage.  The caffeine, sugar or artificial sweeteners in soda are habit-forming and, in addition to education on the potential health risks, require strong motivation and determination to break.

City council member Mary Cheh says the extra tax revenue will help provide funding for her Healthy Schools Act, an already-approved measure that promises to improve nutrition quality of school meals and improve physical education.  Skeptics argue that the tax will not, in fact, drive soda consumption down and that taxing diet soda does nothing in terms of helping prevent obesity. It may give dietitians an additional opportunity to educate consumers on the health benefits of making better food and drink choices  – the importance of which can be agreed on by everyone.

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