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Obesity doctors urged to back off soda tax

October 27, 2009 | 10:08 am

Sodas The annual gathering of the Obesity Society is underway this week in Washington, D.C., and that means the debate over taxes on sodas and other junk food is back on center stage.

A number of health organizations support a soda or junk food tax  -- raising the price on high-calorie, nonnutritious products -- to discourage people from buying them, as was reported here in Booster Shots last month. On Monday, however, the Obesity Society meeting was barely underway when the group Center for Consumer Freedom issued a statement urging health experts to view the obesity epidemic as an issue of personal responsibility that does not require government action.

In case you have forgotten, 33.3% of men and 35.3% of women are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The statement from J. Justin Wilson, of the Center for Consumer Freedom, said: "The public health community seems dead-set on ever more regulation of our lives. The push for taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages is just the latest example of the disdainful belief that when it comes to matters of personal choices, the regulators know best. Government taxation should not be a tool for social engineering. Nor should it be used to penalize individuals for their personal food choices."

Social engineering?

Leaders of the Obesity Society, meanwhile, believe that having 72 million Americans overweight or obese with an associated $140 billion a year in extra medical costs requires some action beyond personal choice. The society's position statement on the epidemic does not mention a soda tax, but it addresses the issue of personal responsibility, saying obesity is not a character flaw but a complex disease involving genes, behavior and environment.

"While personal willpower and healthy lifestyle choices are part of the solution, a lack of willpower is not the cause, and personal responsibility alone is not enough to solve the problem," they say.

We'll have more news from the Obesity Society in Booster Shots this week.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: David McNew / Getty Images

Map24

Photo: Obesity prevalence among adults by state. Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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