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Can Taxes Improve Eating Habits?

Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

I’ve never been a fan of legislating people’s eating habits whether it was the failed attempt to limit beverage portion sizes In New York City or the current legislative initiatives to tax beverages with sugar in Vermont, California and Illinois.

While soda and sugar have become the popular scapegoats for rising obesity and diabetes rates, taking a closer look at US Department of Agriculture data gives you pause. In 2010 (the last year there is complete data) we ate an average of 460 more calories a day than in 1970. Of these extra calories, only 7% (34 calories) come from added sugars while 53% (242 calories) come from fats and oils and 36% (167 calories) come from flour and cereal products. The remaining 4% (15 calories) come from all other sources – dairy, meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables. So in the 1980’s and 90’s when fat was derided as the culprit for weight gain and heart disease and eating low-fat was the call of the day, our fat intake actually went up!

Even more telling is the USDA and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data that both show a decline in added sugar intake since 1999 while obesity and diabetes rates have continued to rise. Will taxing sugared drinks really make a difference when people are already cutting down on their own? Or could it have the opposite effect like the low-fat movement did on fat intake?

As a registered dietitian nutritionist with over 30 years experience, I’ve never found food bans or restrictive diets to be the best way to successfully improve eating habits. Rather, by using a positive approach and working with people to help them make wise choices I can show them how to include some favorite foods and beverages in moderation as part of a nutritionally balanced eating plan. That way people can take personal responsibility in managing their diet and feel empowered, not overpowered by outside forces.

Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.

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