I’ve seen some lame ideas in my day, but this one takes the cake. The Washington Post reports that Kelly Brownell thinks the government should tax soda and sports drinks as a way to curb obesity rates in the United States. (Brownell is a professor of psychology at Yale University and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity). As a sports nutritionist I think it makes no sense to tax sports drinks. They provide a fueling and performance benefit to people competing in races (and training for them) for any event over 60 minutes. 10-milers, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, cycling races and let’s not forget team sports. Discouraging their use puts people at higher risk for dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and hyponatremia (all of which can be deadly). Way to sabotage all the athletes and active people out there. Bad idea. I think people need to get off the HFCS soap box and just consume less “empty calorie” processed foods period. It’s not rocket science to know that an apple is more nourishing than a candy bar. But is the apple available for purchase at the local inner city corner market? Not always. I don’t think caloric sodas or juices should be taxed either. That’s calling out one particular culprit for obesity and that is a huge mistake. Too many calories period (from high fat, high sugar, refined carbs etc.) is the problem. I’ve seen clients who are super health conscious but the amount of nuts they eat per day puts them over the limit for weight loss. So do we tax nuts too? I also have a problem with the comparison to cigarettes. All cigarettes are bad. They all contain nicotine. But with sodas, do you tax diet soda too? No sugar. No calories. But some research argues diet sodas cause people to crave more sweets. I believe one of the reasons people gain weight is the lack of movement and regular exercise – on top of poor nutrition. Our bodies are meant to move. How many people actually get 10,000 steps a day? If you have a desk job and don’t exercise, I bet you only get about 3000-4000 steps. Guidelines are at least an hour a day. Get up and move and maybe you’ll feel like eating healthier foods. I’ve seen it first hand. Exercise also elevates mood, which can fight “the blues”. If the government wants to get involved they can start with any of these simple things:
- bring physical education back into schools
- improve nutrition education in schools and communities
- cover 4 family visits a year with a registered dietitian – a nutrition expert who can come into the home, observe the family environment and teach the family how to improve their nutrition habits
- provide free nutrition lectures and free physical activity to communities
- make race entry fees and big item purchases (like bicycles and other sports equipment) tax deductible.
- give incentives to businesses who provide physical activity and nutrition services to employees as a free health benefit
But don’t open up the tax can of worms. Take a sensible, positive approach.