Should we tax junk food?

Episode 23 37m


The outside influence that industrial food and agriculture lobbyists have on our policies encourages a food system that engenders disease. For example, in the 2016 election, the American Beverage Association and the soda companies spent more than $30 million fighting taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. It was only because a deep-pockets organization and a billionaire (the Arnold Foundation and Michael Bloomberg) spent $20 million opposing them that soda taxes passed in four cities.

There is clear evidence that taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages results in reduced consumption and provides a funding source for public health measures to fight obesity and chronic disease and improve the health of communities.

The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines recommended we cut our consumption of added sugars to less than 10 percent of our calories, while the same USDA’s SNAP program (food stamps) spends about $7 billion a year for the poor to consume soda and sugar-sweetened beverages (about 20 billion servings a year)? Soda is the number one “food item” purchased by those on SNAP. No wonder the costs of chronic disease overwhelm our federal budget.

We need to transform our food system and address one of the biggest threats to our well-being: our lack of a coordinated and comprehensive food policy. Our nation’s and the world’s health crises are not driven by medical issues, but rather by social, economic, and political issues that conspire to drive disease—or, as the physician and global health activist Paul Farmer calls it, “structural violence.” And our food system is at the nexus of where our current crises come together. The effects of the way we grow, produce, distribute, and consume food undermine the public good and subvert what’s left of the public’s trust in government.

My guest on this week’s episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy is Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary and one of America’s leading economists. In addition to serving as 71st Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration, Dr. Summers served as Director of the White House National Economic Council in the Obama Administration, as President of Harvard University, and as the Chief Economist of the World Bank. Currently, Summers is the President Emeritus and the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University, where he became a full professor at age 28, one of the youngest in Harvard’s recent history. Along with Michael Bloomberg, Dr. Summers recently launched a Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health. He chairs the board of the Center for Global Development and chaired the Commission on Global Health, lauded by the UN Secretary-General who noted that it “will bring more than health–it will bring equity, and contribute to a life of dignity for all.”

In this episode, Larry and I discuss the benefits of taxing junk foods. How would this affect the economy and the epidemic of chronic disease? Find out in this week’s episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

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Ep. 23 - Should we tax junk food?