Obesity is a serious problem, one with an increasing total of preventable deaths and a medical price tag that may someday surpass our ability to pay.
More than a third of the U.S. population is considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excessive weight is a factor in preventable heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
The annual medical cost of obesity is nearly $150 billion, with each seriously overweight person’s annual medical costs more than $1,400 higher than those of a person of normal weight.
Childhood obesity is on the rise, too, creating a future generation that is tracking towards diabetes in a third of the population, Dr. Jagan Ailinani, a Carbondale physician, reported in Monday’s newspaper.
Obviously, something must be done about the public health crisis of obesity. But it should not include the misguided legislation recently served up in Springfield by Sen. Mattie Hunter and Rep. Robyn Gabel, both Chicagoland Democrats.
The Sweetened Beverage Tax targets soft drinks, which already are burdened with a 6.25 percent state tax. Juice drinks, sports beverages and teas also would be hit with the new tax.
The plan calls for a penny-per-ounce surcharge on distributors of packaged sugar-sweetened beverages, syrups or powders sold to retailers. But don’t let that “penny” label mislead you. As we reported Saturday, the plan would boost the price of a 12-pack of soda by $1.44. If you’re paying $3 for a 12-pack today, for example, the new tax would raise the price to $4.44.
Some things are obvious about the proposal. By itself, the new tax won’t make a significant dent in obesity. Sugar-sweetened beverages are not the only factor in excessive weight, just the newest target on a nutritional shooting range littered with earlier target – fast foods, alcoholic beverages, fried foods, candy, fatty foods, foods that are high in carbohydrates and just plain junk food.
This tax is really about bringing in more revenue for a state with a long-standing and severe problem of overspending.
Instead of the state controlling its appetite for new feel-good programs and dubious projects, such as the new Chicago airport planned for south suburban Peotone, we’re facing a major price increase for the simple pleasures of soft drinks.
But what happens when the higher prices cut into sales? The anticipated stream of revenue ($600 million) will be cut significantly as Illinois soda buyers living near the borders drive into Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana – where bargain-seeking smokers and gasoline customers already travel.
If the new soft drink tax becomes law, it won’t take long before it hurts Illinois businesses – including convenience stores, grocers, restaurants, and discount retailers. And it certainly won’t help soft drink bottlers, who support large payrolls for office workers, plant employees, truckers and other distributors.
There definitely is a link between obesity and the over-consumption of sugar-laden foods, including soft drinks. But it is not the function of state government to police our appetites and place unreasonable burdens on the few frills that are within the reach of average working men and women.
Fortunately the Sweetened Beverage Tax is currently bottled up in House and Senate committees. That’s where it belongs until the idea is permanently laid to rest.