Soda Tax Redux | City of Ideas

Posted 01/23/2014 by Paul S. Grogan

The Boston Foundation in 2010 co-founded the Healthy People/Healthy Economy Coalition because of the clear need to address the spiraling costs of health care and to stem the rising tide of preventable chronic illness and the threat it poses to the Commonwealth's health, fiscal stability and economic competitiveness. At the forefront of this is our need to address high levels of obesity and overweight, especially among children.

Nearly 50 years ago, when the Massachusetts Legislature first implemented the sales tax, it chose to exempt a roster of “essential food items,” and candy and soda made the list. At the time, our schools had daily recess – and our youth obesity rate nationally was in the low single digits.

Since then, a lot has changed – in our lifestyles, our schools, and our neighborhoods. And unfortunately, our obesity rate spiked in the 1990s and 2000s and has stayed high. 30 percent of our children are either overweight or obese. Obesity is a risk factor for numerous preventable chronic diseases, from Type 2 diabetes to heart disease, and obesity-related expenditures cost Massachusetts more than $1.8 billion per year, a cost that will continue to rise unless we take action.

The easiest way to reduce costs is to improve public health – to keep people healthy so they don’t need treatment. But while public and private spending on health care exceeds $63 billion in Massachusetts, we spend less than $600 million on public health.

Research from NEHI and the University of California San Francisco found that while healthy behaviors are the largest determinant of overall health, we invest less than a tenth of our health spending on them.

In short – we have two problems. We are creating a society where obesity and its health complications are more prevalent, and dollars are scarce to stop it.

Removing the outdated soda and candy tax exemption addresses both.

The Boston Foundation and Healthy People/Healthy Economy Coalition authored a bill, H. 2634, which would remove the 50-year-old tax exemption and invest the revenue in the state’s new Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, targeting expanding physical activity programs in schools in every Massachusetts city and town. And we know from experience that small investments can have a big impact.

The formula for success is not rocket science. Children who are more active and choose healthier foods are going to be healthier in the long run than they would be otherwise.

To learn more, visit – and take a look at our series of “Fit Facts”, which highlight the problem of obesity in Massachusetts – either on the HP/HE site or our Pinterest page.

It’s time we change the way we think about soda.

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