Sugar hits a sour note in some cities

Glenn Ellis | 5/25/2016, 2:48 p.m.
We all know, by now, that Berkeley, Calif. became the first city in the United States to pass a tax ...

We all know, by now, that Berkeley, Calif. became the first city in the United States

to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages - soda, sweetened teas, sugary juices,

and energy drinks. Also, in 2014, Mexico's congress passed a tax on sugary beverages that went into effect all over the country - effectively raising their prices by 10 percent - and an 8 percent sales tax on junk foods, including chips, cookies,

candy, and ice cream.

What's missing from these two examples of success for Soda Tax is that a) Mexico

passed a national Soda tax, including junk foods such as chips, cookies, candy,

and ice cream, and b) epidemiologists in California are already tracking the "leakage"

  • people going outside of Berkeley to buy their sugary beverages.

For reasons that I have yet to understand, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, following

the failed attempt by his predecessor, Michael Nutter, is proposing a tax on soda,

with no mention of any health benefits. Lost in translation in this entire debate

is that this should not be about soda, it should be about sugar.

There's no doubt that Americans are addicted to sugar. We consume an average of

150 pounds per person each year. For many of us, that means we eat the equivalent

of our own weight in sugar every year.

The sugar industry is big: $100 billion per year. Every day, we live in the world

sugar created. From 1600 to the 1800s, sugar drove the economies of Europe, the

Americas, Asia and Africa and did more to reshape the world than any ruler, empire,

or war had ever done. Sugar, or White Gold, as British colonists called it, was

the engine of the slave trade that brought millions of Africans to the Americas,

beginning in the early 16th century. Profit from the sugar trade was so significant

that it may have even helped America achieve independence from Great Britain.

It's unlikely that many of us in the United States ever think about sugar's history

while consuming many pounds of sugar per year. In fact, according to the U.S.


of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar per

year. That's five grocery store shelves loaded with 30 or so-one pound bags of sugar

each. If you find that hard to believe, that's probably because sugar is so ubiquitous

in our diets that most of us have no idea how much we're consuming. The Centers

for Disease Control (CDC) puts the amount at 27.5 teaspoons of sugar a day per

capita, which translates to 440 calories - nearly one quarter of a typical 2,000

calorie a day diet.

The obesity epidemic - along with related diseases including cancer, dementia, heart

disease and diabetes - has spread across every nation where sugar-based carbohydrates

have come to dominate to the food economy.

If the sugar from each bottle could be crystallized, it would amount to 10 teaspoons.

Put 10 teaspoons of sugar in the bottom of an empty coke bottle and look at it.