Wednesday, March 10, 2010


By Jane McGrath, M.D.

You may hear a lot of talk about taxing soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages. A new tax never sounds like a good idea, but this one is well worth considering. The proposal would add an excise tax of 1 cent per fluid ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages. The tax would be levied on the manufacturers and would show up as a small price increase on the drinks on the supermarket shelf.

I don’t think anyone needs reminding that we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic in New Mexico, as well as in much of the rest of the world. Obesity is a complex problem with multiple causes that result in very high medical costs—which is unsurprising given that complications from obesity include diabetes, heart disease, liver failure, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems. In fact, we spend an estimated $147 billion dollars nationally each year on obesity-related medical costs, half of which are paid with taxpayer dollars through Medicaid and Medicare. Strategies such as an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will help decrease obesity rates and save taxpayer money by reducing medical costs.

Fixing the problem of obesity will involve many different kinds of strategies—much as we are doing with smoking. We have anti-smoking public information campaigns; taxes on cigarettes; age restrictions on buying cigarettes; and policies that restrict smoking in many public places, including the workplace. It takes this kind of multi-pronged approach to make an impact. So a targeted tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is part of how we can begin to deal with obesity from a legislative perspective.