Raise Taxes or Shoot Hoops?

In a new study published in Health Affairs, researchers estimate that a nationwide penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce consumption by a whopping 9 calories per day.

Nine calories, that’s it? After all of the huffing and puffing over needing to tax sugar-sweetened beverages to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, it will only make a 9-calorie-per-day difference? That’s less than 1 percent of the total number of calories we consume on a daily basis. The researchers acknowledge that despite 40 states currently imposing sales taxes on all types of soda, no concrete link has been found between state-level soda sales taxes and prevalence of obesity. (Of course, they determine this to be due to existing sales taxes being “too low.”)

None of this is to say we buy the premise that sugary drinks are a unique contributing factor to weight gain. They aren’t: Calories are calories, and too many calories from any source cause weight gain. Sugar-sweetened beverages only make up about 6 percent of the average person’s daily calories, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Instead of a draconian national beverage tax—which is a handy excuse for a money grab—there are some pretty easy ways for people to burn off a few calories on their own in short order. According to WebMD, a 150 pound person can burn 11 calories by trying on clothes for five minutes, walking around the office for five minutes, or playing with children for five minutes. It only takes three minutes to burn 12 calories shopping for groceries, and only four minutes to burn 10 calories washing the dishes. Two minutes of shooting hoops burns 10 calories, and two minutes playing ping pong burns nine calories.

And after mowing the lawn for three minutes, a 150 pound person could burn more calories than would be saved from a sugary-drink tax. It looks like lawmakers pushing for soda taxes could benefit more from pushing their lawnmowers instead. Even a 250 pound person could burn 10 calories just by spending four minutes reading consumerfreedom.com.

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