Fat Breaks

Taxing soda is not the cure to the city’s weight or budget problems.

Taxing soda is not the cure to the city’s weight or budget problems.

A tax on soda sounds like a good idea in theory. According to an April 7 report from NBCPhiladelphia, the city has the highest obesity rate of the country’s 10 largest cities. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also reported that as of 2008, the obesity rate hovered at 27.7 percent – more than twice the state’s average in 1990.

Last month, Mayor Nutter proposed a rather unpopular solution to help close the $100 million gap in the budget for the fiscal year 2010-2011 – a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on soda.

Nutter chose not to cut more funding from essential city services, which is commendable. But he didn’t think about the numerous businesses he would hurt in the process. While Nutter called it the “Healthy Philadelphia Initiative,” the tax appears to be nothing more than a good way to raise money for the city – at the expense of everyone else.

Obesity is caused in part by a poor diet and a lack of exercise. Drinking soda is not directly causing people to gain weight, and eliminating it from one’s diet will probably not lead to significant weight loss, although it might help.

Adding taxes to unhealthy foods and beverages is also not the solution to a rising obesity rate. Instead of forcing people to buy healthier beverages, it may force people outside of the city to buy their soda elsewhere. In that case, the city would actually lose more money than they would potentially earn.

If Nutter truly wants to combat obesity in the city, the Healthy Philadelphia Initiative should concentrate on awareness and empowerment instead of trying to squeeze money from of the wallets of Philadelphians. Perhaps Nutter and his cabinet should take a look at Mississippi, currently the fattest state in the nation. Instead of taxing fried foods and soda, Gov. Haley Barbour and a couple hundred of his state legislators, staff members and state residents entered a 12-week weight loss program to set a positive example for others.

The United States offers its citizens a number of freedoms, and obesity is one of them. It’s unreasonable for the city to force healthy food on its citizens, no matter how noble its interests may be. The city should help people make responsible decisions, and Philadelphia has done that by requiring restaurants and fast-food chains to post caloric information with its meals. Philadelphia has done its part – now it’s time for the people to do their part.

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