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"Sugar tax" on sweet treats could refine waistlines: study

People often lose money with taxes, but can a new "sugar tax" also help them lose weight? A new study suggests that a tax on sweet snacks could have an impact on weight loss.

The study examined the potential effects of a 20% tax on sweets like chocolate, cookies and cakes. The researchers estimated not only a decrease in consumer purchases of these foods, but also a decrease in caloric intake, based on a modeling of the effects of the soda tax put in place at the time. United Kingdom in 2016.

With such a tax, snackers could lose 0.5 point of body mass index (BMI). It's about three to four pounds for a 6-foot person.

An interesting study, but is the solution to reduce obesity another "sin tax", ie taxes levied on products harmful to health?

The tobacco tax is an example of a successful sin tax in the United States.

"We know that sin taxes effectively change behaviors, and with every increase in the cost of tobacco, smoking goes down," said Dr. Lisa Chamberlain, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine.

"The difference between a tobacco tax and a tax on snacks is that you do not have to smoke to live, you have to eat to live," she added.

"A major goal of taxes is that a price of a product reflects its cost to society. We know that added sugars are usually related to cardiovascular disease. Things like cakes and cookies, junk food in general, are expensive for society, but are cheap, "said Dr. Kristine Madsen, associate professor at the Berkeley School of Public Health's ABC News.

One consideration to consider is that food taxes are regressive because they affect poor communities more than rich communities.

"It's true that a higher percentage of their income goes to food in low-income households compared to high-income households, because low-income households do not earn a sufficient wage," Madsen said. .

"In the United States, some populations are suffering from food insecurity," said Professor Jayanta Bhattacharya, professor of medicine and health policy at Stanford University. "They may make difficult choices about their diet."

And yet, taxing sweet foods can also prove to be useless for fighting obesity, some say.

"When studies look at what's really happening to BMI after the imposition of such a tax, they tend to see smaller BMI changes than in the past." simulation studies, "said Bhattacharya.

PHOTO: The chocolate brownies are visible in this picture.PHOTO STOCK / Getty Images
Chocolate brownies are seen in this picture.

"Simulation studies do not consider compensation. People are turning to other foods that are [calorie]-Dense, or bad for you in another way once a potential tax on snacks is imposed, "he added.

In 2011, the USDA collected data from a large retail food store that tracked food stamp purchases. According to these data, more than $ 450 million in food coupons were spent on sweets. A 20% tax on snacks, like that proposed in the UK study, could potentially generate $ 90 million based on USDA findings.

Could the money from a tax on snacks be used to make healthy foods cheaper?

"I think people are thinking about taxes on snacks, but we are still trying to ensure that communities are able to take innovative approaches to promote healthier diets. You could definitely use the money from a junk food tax to reduce the price of healthier foods, Madsen said.

There is a previous example of using tax on something "bad" to do well. For example, the tobacco tax money is used in California to fund First 5, a crucial government program designed to support early childhood development.

However, Madsen and Bhattacharya agree that a broader strategy is needed to tackle the obesity epidemic. "If the approach of the obesity epidemic is not exhaustive, it is difficult to repel it," Bhattacharya explained. "If you keep up, it's easy to eat bad. We must change that. We need to change it for you to think seriously about junk food. Previously, it was the price that would do that, but the price did not do it anymore. "

Madsen agrees. "Making healthy food cheap is the solution," she said.

Madsen adds, "Rather than thinking about how to expand WIC and SNAP, I would prefer everyone to get a living wage. Having a sustainable salary ensures more dignity. "

Sejal Parekh, MD, a pediatrician in San Diego, currently works in the ABC News Medical Unit.

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