'World News' Shills for Soda Tax to Fight Obesity

Saving the world one tax at a time might sound like a silly notion. Not to those who want a soda tax to control people’s consumption habits in the name of fighting obesity.

On ABC’s April 8 “World News with Charles Gibson,” John Berman reported that soft drinks were making people fat – something you don’t see in soft drink advertisements.

“If you watch the commercials, soft drinks make us sing, soft drinks make us smile,” Berman said. “But researchers say they also make us fat.”

So, to address this problem, Berman consulted Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Obesity at Yale University who agreed.

“There are many contributors to the obesity problem,” Brownell said. “But if you look at scientific studies – consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages would be at or near the top of the list.”

According to Berman, the average American drinks 50 cans of soda a month – more than any other beverage, but did not differentiate between sugar-sweetened and artificial-sweetened soft drinks. Nevertheless, he suggested controlling widespread soda consumption might be reduced by taxation.

“Today’s editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine says one of the best ways to reduce this intake is to tax it,” Berman added.

Brownell described the suggested tax as a “public health homerun.” However, neither Brownell nor Berman emphasized people’s right to consume what they want.

“A one-penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages could lead to about a 10 percent reduction in consumption, which could be a public health homerun,” Brownell said.

Berman compared a proposed soda tax with the effectiveness of a cigarette tax. However, even with a tax on cigarettes, it only reduced smoking in adults by 2 percent and teens by 7 percent and not the 10 percent as he reported a soda tax might. Nonetheless, Berman blamed “lobbying” by the beverage industry for preventing this “public health homerun” from becoming law and the ensuing windfall that would come from it.

“There is a historic precedent – look at cigarette taxes,” Berman added. “Studies estimate a 10-percent hike in cigarette prices led to a 2-percent reduction in adult smoking rates and a 7-percent reduction in teen smoking. But a recent effort to tax sugared drinks like soda in New York and raise more than $400 million in revenue died after fierce lobbying from the beverage industry.”

Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, explained that soft drinks didn’t play a role in the obesity epidemic – that consuming too much is the problem.

“Soft drinks don’t play any role in the obesity epidemic,” Neely explained. “Soft drinks are just a fun beverage along with a lot of other beverages and foods that we like to eat or drink. It’s eating too much of something that is a problem.”

Berman’s report was just the latest example of the media pushing the government knows best theme about food and drinks. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta suggested in December 2007 that corn prices should be taxed to fight “the obesity epidemic.” The Business & Media Institute Special Report Supersized Bias examined the media’s role in covering the obesity debate and found that businesses were overwhelmingly blamed for American obesity – rather than the individuals who consumed food and beverage (66 stories blamed companies, 26 blamed individuals).