Battle of the bulge

Step one is to increase taxes on sugared beverages

Did you know that in China Americans are called “the fat ones”? It’s an embarrassing epithet, but it’s also much deserved. We are, after all, the most seriously overweight people in the world.

Packing on all those pounds is unhealthful and expensive. In California alone, obesity costs $41 billion a year, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

There are many reasons for the obesity epidemic, but an exhaustive new study from the center—done in conjunction with the UCLA Center for Health Policy—points to a strong link between fatness and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, especially sodas.

The study interviewed 42,000 Californians of all ages. It found that one-fourth of adults drink one or more non-diet sodas a day, and 27 percent of them are more likely to be overweight. The numbers are worse for children: 62 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 and 41 percent of children from 2 to 11 imbibe at least one soda a day. Each of these sodas contains 17 teaspoons of sugar.

The average American drinks 50 gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages a year.

Earlier this month state Sens. Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) and Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) held legislative hearings on the link between sugared drinks and obesity. Holding up a Super Big Gulp container, Padilla pointed out that it could hold a half-gallon of soda with the equivalent of 54 sugar cubes in it—800 calories’ worth.

“I can’t think of a single product that contributes more to our ‘diabesity’ epidemic than soda,” Alquist said.

All of us are paying for this epidemic. It’s time to bring down the cost. As has been done with tobacco, we need to disincentivize the consumption of soda and other sugared beverages. The addition of a penny-per-ounce tax would be a good first step—and would also have the benefit of bringing in $1.8 billion annually in much-needed revenues.