The Institute of Public Health is proposing that the Irish government implement a tax on soda and other sugary drinks to help combat obesity. Attempts in New York to ban large soft drinks failed because it attacked only one segment of high sugar drinks while not regulating others like fruit drinks, milkshakes, and even lattes which can have more calories than a soda. It’s not possible to tackle a large scale issue by focusing on a single minor element.
If they want to tackle health issues like obesity, why not put a tax on video games like Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox? Instead of children playing outside and burning calories, they sit in front of a screen for hours on end; the only parts of their body performing any exercise are their thumbs.
Health insurance companies are now starting to charge overweight people higher premiums because they seem to think these folks will need more care in the form of knee and hip replacements and heart surgeries. What about athletes? Do they get charged higher premiums? I suspect there are a high percentage of athletes who obtain medical care on a more frequent basis for sprains, fractures, ligament tears, arthroscopic surgeries, as well as hip and knee replacements than the average obese person.
Haven’t governments learned that so called “sin” taxes – those on things like alcohol and cigarettes just don’t work? If a person wants those items, they will forgo other things in their life such as clothing, heat, and even food. Taxing sugary drinks will do the same thing for people who like an occasional soda. Cutting funding for schools means that activities such as the arts and athletics are the first things to go as they are considered non-academic, along with after school programs that provide activities for young people.
Governments tend to tackle large problems like some people weed their gardens – pull just a leaf off a weed and hope the rest of the plant mysteriously disappears. What happens in reality is the weed, if not dug out by the root, just comes back larger. Tax one thing and people shift to another or merely shift their priorities.
In addition, there never seems to be any guarantee with these taxes that the funds will be used to encourage healthier lifestyles. If governments and health insurance companies really want people to become healthier, why aren’t they out there helping to make fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthy foods more affordable? Why does sugary cereal cost half as much as a healthier granola? Why does it cost extra in some fast food restaurants to substitute a bottle of water for a soda – especially one that is smaller in total ounces than the soft drink? Pre-processed and fast food is often cheaper than fresh alternatives. That’s where the emphasis needs to be instead of targeting one small element of a much larger societal issue.
Give Me Back My Sugar!
Slowly but surely over the last few years, fizzy drink (aka soda or soft drink) companies in Ireland and elsewhere have been ruining their beverages. First it was Sprite (that I noticed, anyway) and it has made the cycle through almost every other soda I (used to) enjoy drinking, including 7-up, Fanta (all flavors), San Pelligrino Limonata (and other flavors) and even Ginger Ale.
I blame the medical community. The ones who blame the obesity crisis solely on fizzy drinks, as if chocolate, candy/sweets, crisps/chips, and fast food play no part. Nor, it seems, does the entire processed, ready to heat and eat food now available in the supermarkets. The fact that kids don’t play outside much anymore as they are all glued to some form of screen or other (phone, tablet, video game, TV) isn’t on the front line. No, they just put all of their wrath into one type of beverage.
Too much of any of these products is bad for you. Targeting a single product isn’t going to solve the problem.
For every study that says full sugar drinks are bad for you there is an equal study that says artificial sweeteners, when they aren’t causing cancer, can actually cause you to crave high fat and sugar in other foods.
So what have these soft drink companies done? Removed some of the sugar and replaced it with sugar substitutes. They claim they are plant based (Stevia and similar) and give the beverage a ‘great new taste’. Who does their taste testing? I’ve tried these new formulas and each and every one of them tastes like it has been doused with artificial sweeteners – the same taste as saccharin, aspartame, and every other non-sugar sweetener. One swallow is all it takes and I’m pouring the remaining contents down the drain.
Much of this rush to sugar substitutes has been a result of sugar taxes introduced in countries like Ireland and the UK.
I’m not so much opposed to companies substituting part of the sugar for other non-sugar sweeteners, but I do object to them being passed off as the same as the original full-sugar variety. If companies want to create a “lighter” version, that’s fine, but please label it as such. I object to buying a product, taking a swig, and finding out it’s not what I expected and end up binning the rest. Companies need taste testers whose taste buds haven’t been severely damaged by too many artificial sweeteners.
Let the consumer decide. Do they want a sugar-substitute variety at a lower price which may taste different or do they want to pay the price and have their original variety. I’m in the latter category. I don’t drink soda every day, some weeks I don’t drink it at all. I’m not a coffee drinker and not a big tea drinker either, so sometimes when I need a hit of caffeine I reach for a Pepsi (thankfully one of the products that have not succumbed to the sugar switch on its original variety – they have plenty of other part and non-sugar varieties). I like the taste, just as it is.
I also like a lemon beverage when I don’t want caffeine and am out at a restaurant. If I don’t drink coffee or tea and can’t get a decent tasting soft drink at a restaurant, I end up with water. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with water – it’s my beverage of choice 98% of the time. But restaurants don’t make money off tap water – they do off other beverages. So I’m not a cheapskate when ordering water in a restaurant, they just don’t have anything that tastes good that I want to drink.
Did you know an equivalent amount of wine has between 50% and 100% more calories than a can of regular Coke or Pepsi? A pint of beer has almost the same amount as a can of full sugar soda.
Stop hiding behind flawed studies – statistics can be arranged to say whatever the person requesting the statistics wants it to say.
I did write to Nestle when San Pelligrino Limonata, my last frontier, went the way of Stevia. They did write back but the response was pretty much I was out of luck. So I’ve stopped buying their product and every other soft drink product or lemonade that uses artificial sweeteners.
I also complained to Subway in Ireland when they switched to only diet drinks. You can get a sub with double meat and cheese and extra mayo, but you cannot have sugar in your beverage.
The only way to make an impression on companies is to talk with your wallet. If you don’t like the new varieties, stop buying them and let them know why. Hopefully, they will get the message.
Education is the key to building healthy societies, not making decisions for people. Start the education young and follow it through with other healthy choices.
Give people information, but also give them choice. Put a warning sticker on the full sugar variety if you have to, like they did with cigarettes, but let the consumer decide what form of beverage they prefer.