Why public awareness is essential to finding a solution for health issues
Photo by Jack Mollin: The soda machine in Post offers a range of options to students.
When you turn on the TV or walk down Main Street , you’ll likely see at least one advertisement telling you to ‘Drink Coca-Cola,’ or Fanta, or Sprite. Yet over the past couple of years, more and more of our fellow citizens have been saying just the opposite. From city officials to health advocates, there has been widespread outcry against sugary drinks, with soda at the center of all the attention. Much of this attention is deserved, as soda greatly contributes to the obesity epidemic which plagues the United States. Soda is full of added sugar: one can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar, just above the maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake. To compound matters, those who regularly drink soda have, on average, two or more servings of it every day.
A large proportion of the U.S population seems to be hooked on these sugary treats. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, about 40-50% of the U.S population drank soda on a daily basis. Though that frightening number fell to about thirtythree percent of the population in 2016, according to federal officials, that’s still a third of the people in the United States who drink soda daily– about 106 million people. That’s 106 million people consuming far more sugar than they should be every single day.
While fast food and baked goods also play a large role in the obesity crisis, the sheer number of Americans that consume soda has thrust the sugary beverage under the withering fire of health supporters and city officials alike. Many city officials have already been working to combat obesity, through methods ranging from park and pathway construction to widespread awareness campaigns. Cities and states are now taking a similar approach to combat the soda epidemic in the form of taxation. Legislative battles in states like New York, California, Virginia, and Washington have popped up in recent years, with some resulting in higher taxes on soda.
That may seem like a step in the right direction, but while these taxes may be the result of good intentions, they aren’t really that effective in preventing soda consumption. Think about it this way. You’re buying a 12 ounce Coca-Cola along with your meal at a restaurant, and you see that it’s 25 cents more expensive than before. That’s one quarter. Would you really be discouraged from buying that soda just because of a quarter? Probably not, and statistically speaking, most other people aren’t discouraged, either. And even worse, some people would be even more inclined to drink soda because they feel their beloved drink is under attack.
It’s no question in my mind that something has to be done to discourage the over-consumption of these drinks. But I don’t think that taxation is the solution to this issue. And no, it’s not because of any deeply-held belief against taxation, because while we might not like taxes, the government needs money from somewhere. I’m against soda taxes because they just don’t work. It’s estimated that a percent change in the soft drinks tax would only decrease average BMI by 0.003 points. That means that you’d have to raise soft drink taxes a ridiculous amount in order for them to significantly impact the obesity problem.
While taxes can play a part in the solution, more needs to be done. The U.S has dealt with health problems of this proportion in the past, the most recent (and successful) example being smoking. U.S smoking rates have fallen considerably since the 1960s, when forty-two percent of U.S adults smoked. This wasn’t due to raised taxes, it was instead the result of a major public awareness push- one that is still going on today. Starting with the Surgeon General’s warning in the 1960’s, this campaign has resulted in a steady decline in the use of cigarettes. Additionally, a company called Truth released ads aimed at younger people that showcased how pets have a higher chance of death if their owner smokes. These ads made many pet owners give up smoking, because they felt it hurt their pets. It was personal for them. These attacks were clearly successful, because today, only about seventeen percent of adults smoke cigarettes.
This reveals a key reason why more public awareness, not more taxes, are needed to combat this obesity epidemic. You can raise the price of a product higher and higher, but people who like it will still buy it. But if you convince people that the product is doing harm to their bodies and their health, of you make it personal for them, then they’ll stop buying the product. That’s why we need more of these awareness campaigns, more warnings, and more labels. In the end, if people want to drink their five sodas and eat their Big Macs, you can’t stop them. But if you make them think about the consequences, they might just stop themselves.
By Sam Hodman