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The trickle-down effect of a soda tax is positive

Published November 14. 2009 09:00AM

Ask me my political affiliation and I will say, "Independent," since that is how I'm registered. Ask me my political philosophy and I will coin a term.

"Practical Libertarian."

While I believe the best government is a minimal one that allows for a maximal amount of individual freedom, I realize that's an ideal. What's real is that too often an unfettered pursuit of individual freedom shackles another's.

That's why we need laws. That's why I support a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax.

Last week you read that many experts believe such a tax would generate $14.9 billion in the first year alone even though such a tax would surely reduce soda consumption somewhat. The experts see these combined effects benefitting America in many ways.

Marianne Grant, a registered dietitian and health educator at Texas A&M Health Science Center's Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi expressed one in a Health Scout article that explained why the one-cent-per-ounce soda tax had widespread support in the medical community. She said: "I've been hearing a lot about the need to attack the obesity epidemic like we attacked tobacco and smoking, and the only thing that significantly reduced the number of people smoking was the price of cigarettes."

Grant and other experts believe the consumption cutback caused by the tax would cause the average soda drinker to lose two pounds a year. As a result, the obesity epidemic along with its myriad of health problems would slow.

A second consideration is that the revenue generated by such a tax could be used to help whatever form of health care reform that is ultimately enacted by the government.

While a Libertarian is supposed to disdain government interference especially in the form of additional taxes the practical side of me sees this new tax as shifting part of the health care burden away from those who have done nothing to create it.

A recent news release from the American Public Health Association revealed that prevention of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure all aliments that have been aided at least somewhat by soda consumption would reduce medical costs. If that statement strikes you as common sense, the actual savings might surprise you.

When researchers used a base group of 51- and 52-year-old Americans, they projected that those who could avoid developing diabetes from this point in their lives would save $34,483. Avoiding high blood pressure would save $13,702, and those who could keep from becoming obese would save $7,168.

But based on the way our health system is currently structured, the use of "they" is not really accurate. Much like car insurance, increases in medical insurance costs are covered by the group as much as the individual.

So if instituting a soda tax is going to help create these sorts of savings for individuals with the ailments, it should also reduce health care costs across the board and thereby benefit those so committed to health and fitness that they rarely or never consume sugar water.

Such a reduction would also help financially struggling families and our sputtering economy, two major benefits that clearly outweigh any reduction of personal freedom brought on by a soda tax.

But the argument for a soda tax doesn't end here.

Another relatively recent study showed something that surprised many: losing weight another inevitable byproduct of the soda tax rejuvenates the physical structure of ailing hearts.

In an August issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a British study showed that the heart muscles of obese people who averaged a drop of about 8 points in the Body Mass Index (even though after the reduction in weight they were considered clinically obese!) in one year became noticeably thinner and more efficient.

Typically the walls of the left and right ventricles, the blood-pumping chambers of the heart, are thicker in the obese, yet the ventricles of the subjects who recorded the weight loss were less overgrown, and their hearts were capable of holding more blood. The more blood the heart can hold at rest, the better for health.

Experts feels this research explains why people who are grossly overweight are at such a high risk for heart attack and sudden death. I feel it's just another reason why a soda tax makes sense even if it infringes a bit on personal freedom.

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