Soda Tax Crusaders Left Baffled After Obesity Rises And Soda Consumption Drops

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The number of obese Americans has risen to its highest point in a decade despite a wave of public health campaigns to get people to change the way they eat and drink.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) survey data, the obesity rate rose from 35 percent to 38 percent from 2011-12 to 2013-14.

Although the figure increase is statsically insignificant, earlier CDC figures show obesity has increased markedly from 2003-04, when 32 percent of people were obese.

Childhood obesity has remained steady at the 17 percent mark over the last 10 years despite the best efforts of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

The stubbornly high obesity rate is puzzling health campaigners who were expecting obesity to fall as consumption of sugar and soda declined. Sugary drinks have become one of the leading villains of public health activists, some of whom have even claimed sugar is the new tobacco.

A professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health Marion Nestyle, told the New York Times “everybody was hoping that with the decline in sugar and soda consumption, that we’d start seeing a leveling off of adult obesity.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an extra 445 calories per day have been added to the American food supply over the past 40 years. Sugar accounted for only 9 percent of this increase, or 34 calories.

American appetite for added sugar and soda has been steadily declining from the year 2000. The amount of calories in Americans’ diet from added sugar and soda plummeted 39 percent from the turn of the century, says the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Soda sales also suffered a sharp drop of 12.5 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to Beverage Digest. Furthermore, the average number of calories in a typical soft drink has fallen by almost a quarter since 1998.

“Obesity continues to rise while at the same time soda consumption has decreased,” a representative for the American Beverage Association told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Therefore, it defies logic to say that soft drinks are driving obesity in the United States.”

“Singling out one item in the grocery cart will not reduce obesity,” the rep continued, “Instead, tackling a challenge as complex as obesity requires a holistic approach that considers all calories in the diet.”

Since sugar is often blamed for high obesity rates it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile high or rising obesity rates with falling soda consumption. Fast food is also unlikely to the sole culprit for America’s expanding waistline.

In 2013, the CDC published data showing a fall in Americans’ daily fast food intake. Between 2003 and 2006, Americans got almost 13 percent of their daily calorie intake from fast food. This figure dropped to  11.3 percent between 2007 to 2010.

A more recent study from from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab there was no correlation between the amount of junk food people ate and their body mass index (BMI). “Simply put, just because those things can lead you to get fat doesn’t mean that’s what is making us fat,” said one of the study’s lead researchers David Just.

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