Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obesity in a can

Sharon Ho
Issue Date: 11/30/09

Nearly 200 regular sodas, excluding those bought from the cafeteria or bookstore, are sold daily from 17 vending machines located throughout the campus.

A UCLA Health Policy Research study released Sept. 17 reported that adults who drink one or more regular soda each day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than those who don't. Among adults, drinking soda is also associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Obesity-related medical expenditures now cost taxpayers $147 billion annually, according to a report published by the Health Affairs Journal in July 2009. A University of Chicago study released Nov. 27 expects annual diabetes-related spending to nearly triple in 25 years' time from $113 billion in 2009 to $336 billion in 2034.

A look at the nutrition label of a 12-ounce can of soda shows that it contains 39 grams or nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. This is more than the recommended daily intake of 32 grams or eight teaspoons of added sugar based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

"Regular soda contains calories from sugar, and excess consumption of calories leads to obesity," said Health Services Coordinator Sharon Bartels. A one-penny-per-ounce tax on soda will raise $14.9 billion annually and reduce consumption by 10 percent, said a health policy report released Oct. 15 by The New England Journal of Medicine. "A tax is fine if it deters people from over-drinking soda because of the higher price," said business management major Kathy Erb, 49.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. Proceeds from soda taxes could be used to make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable, for a start. "[The government] is always telling people to eat healthy food, but healthy food is expensive. It should be expensive to eat crappy food," Erb said.

An argument that such a tax falls most heavily on low-income groups fizzles because these people stand to benefit from reduced soda consumption. Federal corn subsidies that enable corn to be made into the cheap high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten soda and other fast food should also be addressed.

If passed, healthcare reform that prevents health insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, would also help to reduce obesity. Health insurers, when realizing the health of their bottom lines are tied to that of their policyholders, will throw their considerable weight behind agribusiness reform to make healthy food cheaper and more accessible to consumers. Now that would be the positive snowball effect if healthcare reform passes this winter.

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