Medical groups call for taxes on sugary drinks

Two major health groups are voicing support for a tax on sugary drinks to help curb childhood obesity.

“The child obesity epidemic is a tremendous problem for the health of our children. We have to do something about it,” said Dr. Steven Abrams, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition and pediatrics professor at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, who helped author the statement. 

The American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics believe one of the main culprits is drinks high in sugar.

“They're not ideal for children and I'm not saying they can’t have any, but fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages and the like should be relatively minimal,” Abrams said. 

In a joint statement released Monday, the two health groups said reducing the amount of sugar children are ingesting is something that needs to be handled right away.

“It can actually cause diabetes in childhood," said Abrams. "It can cause problems with their liver. It's a real problem, the high intake of sugar that some kids take in, it goes beyond weight."

The lead author of the statement said on average children in the U.S. are drinking 30 gallons of sugar each year. Although, many parents claim they are being much more careful to avoid giving their kids soda, sports drinks, and sugary juice.

“There's really no reason for them to be having lots of sugary drinks and so we just have never had them available for them,” said parent Kristin Kingbay, who said her children mainly drink water or milk. 

“We don't have them generally at home. We have milk and water at home for the most part,” said parent Karin True.

Abrams said there is some evidence that placing a tax on sugary beverages can curb consumption.=

“For the tax to work, it has to be clear to the people being taxed what the tax is used for,” Abrams said. 

Parents have mixed reactions to that idea.

“I think there are health costs to society that are associated with sugary beverages, just like alcohol and cigarettes which we tax sort of for those reasons, so I don't think it's an unreasonable thing to do,” said True.

“I think that parents who are going to do what they're going to do are going to do what they do anyway,” Kingbay said. 

The statement calls on lawmakers either at the state or federal level to consider taxing drinks with high sugar content. It also raises concerns about how much those products are being advertised to children, but, doctors said, the number one defense against over-consumption of sugar starts at home.

“The most important beverages for children are water and milk,” said Abrams.

William Dermody with the American Beverage Association issued a statement on the issue saying: