Monday TV, article, and two links.

I’ll be on ESPNEWS today at 2:40 pm EDT, talking Tigers/Twins, a few playoff-bound teams, and maybe Milton Bradley.

New column on the Team USA 18U trials last week, and a quick comment in Rumor Central on Buster Posey’s outlook for 2010.

I have never been a big cola drinker, and only seldom drink soda of any sort (although I do love Thomas Kemper’s vanilla cream soda), but I hate the idea of a government tax on soft drinks or any other foods that the Food Police deem bad for me. What’s next – bacon? Butterfat? I maintain a healthy weight and have low cholesterol despite consuming both of those items. I can make my own food choices, thanks, Sam.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Kseniya Simonova, the sand artist who won Ukraine’s Got Talent this year, she’s pretty impressive.

Comments

  1. Aiden, a quick read of your link does not indicate any comparison of lifetime health costs, only yearly health costs. An obese person may cost more per year, but if they live 20 fewer years, the years that just happen to be the years with the greatest health costs, clearly they will cost less over the course of a lifetime.

  2. Pete’s right. Caring/compassion is a voluntary emotion. It’s not the government’s charter to try to force me or anyone else to do it.

  3. “That’s absurd. Eating healthy is quite cheap if you’re cooking for yourself … Don’t confuse “inexpensive” with “fast food.””

    Really? Assuming “healthy” is referring more to the quality of ingredients than straight fat content, is it really that cheap? Like wouldn’t the 3 possible ways to get the all-american cheeseburger and fries meal be fast food, poor quality grocery store and organic/natural grocery store? I think everyone agrees that the fast food route is the worst (probably costs as much or more than WF and is far worse for you) but the real debate is buying cheap versus organic/natural. Mass produced, grade F ground beef is far cheaper than organic, processed cheese is cheaper than organic, HFCS white rolls are like a dollar a bag and generic brand frozen fries are atleast half the price of Alexia (or a comparable) brand, a 12 pack of Coke/Pepsi is less than a 6 pack of Jones. I imagine (and I’m petty enough to actually do the price comparison if need be), the lazy but non-economical choice is fast food over WF but, to address the quoted point, the economical choice is poor quality food over WF. There’s nothing inexpensive, by people on a far stricter food budget than you or I*, about putting together a healthy (organic/natural) meal.

    * Now, if we want to argue the priorties of many with a low food budget, I’m going to end up in agreement. But current culture as it is, bad, cheap food is prevalent and probably the default. If it takes some additional taxes** to start to change that, so be it.

    ** Do you take issue with prepared foods being taxed (and, atleast in NY as of a decade ago, not food stamp eligible) while raw components are not?

  4. Adam, soda is an elastic good. Nowadays, if you go to the supermarket, soda is probably the cheapest, sugared drink. If soda became more pricey, people might instead find a strong alternative (how many kids don’t like juice, Gatorade, lemondade, etc?).

    The effects you get from alcohol can’t really LEGALLY be reproduced, so alcohol is a lot more inelastic. But even then, if alcohol is taxed higher, I’m sure many people would drink LESS than they might if the cost to get buzzed/drunk was a lot higher.

    Soda and sports drinks are different due to the carbonation. (sans All-Sports…is that still around?)

    I know a girl who developed rashes due to an aspartame allergy and still drinks it! So it’s definitely a preferred drink for many and a nickel per 2-liter or dime per 12-pack is not going to create a seismic shift of soda drinkers to sports drink drinkers.

    And why is Gatorade exempt from this tax? I use flat Coke for my running and it has helped my performance much more than Gatorade. I do drink G2 at home sometimes, but flat Coke helps replenish your glycogen stores and gives you the caffeine boost to help your performance.

  5. And Gatorade contains HFCS as well. I agree with Ronaldo that specific ingredient usage should be taxed, not the umbrella of “soft drinks” which catches some it shouldn’t (Jones products) and misses others it shouldn’t (fake juices).

  6. I think Paul H. is on to something. While it’s likely true that obesity increases health care costs on an annual basis, some studies have suggested that because obese people tend to have shorter lifespans, their lifetime health care costs are actually lower. The assumption that it is a given that obesity leads to increased health care costs probably needs to be examined more closely.

    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029

  7. (Nice writing by me. “… misses others it should catch” or something more clear.)

  8. And Gatorade contains HFCS as well. I agree with Ronaldo that specific ingredient usage should be taxed, not the umbrella of “soft drinks” which catches some it shouldn’t (Jones products) and misses others it shouldn’t (fake juices).

    HFCS has the same effect on the body of sucrose. It’s just a matter of taste and the backlash is a smear job by the corn farmers, sugar farmers in Hawaii, and protectionism-loving politicians.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17234503

    The reality is government strikes again! Due to our asinine primary system, the midwest gains at our expense. We could have cheap sugar flood the US if we just removed the quotas and lowered the tariffs. This would hurt those farmers who rely on tearing up the earth to grow crappy quality corn (this would also be an environmental boon). Yet we would all get cheaper and less processed food. Win win win, right?

  9. “HFCS has the same effect on the body of sucrose.”

    Granted I’m simply googling around and a science idiot, but I don’t think its fact that the two are interchangable be it in the effect on the body’s functioning (http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2008/10/high-fructose-c.html) or on the body’s health (http://www.thegoodhuman.com/2007/09/10/high-fructose-corn-syrup-vs-pure-sugar-is-one-worse-than-the-other/).

  10. Mike, a diet high in fructose is bad for your heart. Fruit won’t do it, but a lot of HFCS probably will.

    One thing I’ve noticed in these comments is how many of you think that 1) your fellow Americans are too dumb to make smart food choices and 2) it is the government’s place to make those choices for them, either through the nudge of taxation or the force of prohibition. I can’t get on board with either of those things. If Americans didn’t listen to food advice, why would companies be voluntarily rushing to eliminate trans fats from foods? Why are whole grains suddenly more popular? I have no objection with the government mandating food labeling, or dishing out food advice (although the pyramid is a joke given how much input food companies have), as long as they’re not interfering with the market for foods.

    As for taxing HFCS instead of soda, maybe it would be better if our government stopped subsidizing HFCS – and, as Mike said, if we stopped protecting domestic sugar producers. Besides, soda with sugar tastes a lot better than than soda with HFCS. It’s a win/win.

  11. For the record I don’t think we should tax HFCS. Just that it made more sense than singling out one of its delivery systems just because it happened to be carbonated.

    I understand that you can’t really dissociate a philosophical agreement with a tax on cigs while being against a tax on HFCS. The reasoning on both is the same:

    The govt needs revenue, might as well collect it on something that’s bad for people, and if we kill two birds with one stone and dissuade people from harming themselves, great.

    That said, there’s a chasm of pragmatic difference. We know tobacco kills, and the govt pretty much regulates anything with a strong carcinogenic effect.

    But really, any kind of food will make you fat. If I sat on my butt all day eating all natural applesauce, I would get fat. If I ate lean chicken all day, but ate too much of it and didn’t exercise, I would get fat.

    So why single out HFCS? Because it’s effective? Why not tax ALL food on a per calorie basis?

    Because it’s stupid, that’s why. People need nutriment. They don’t need cigarettes and alcohol.

  12. Nice research Jake.

    Keith, I recall reading a couple of years ago that some southwest Coke bottlers were using sugar instead of HFCS because bottlers in Mexico use sugar, and the immigrants retained a strong preference for the sugar-based Coke. For some bizarre reason, Coca-Cola stepped in to prevent the bottlers from using sugar. Just goes to show that the corporations aren’t always in favor of letting the market decide either.

  13. Sorry, I meant to write recent Mexican-immigrants, I’m pretty sure that comment would not apply to all immigrants.

  14. KLaw-

    On your last point, I really agree. Let’s just have a no-holds-barred (read: free market) approach. No government subsidies. Government-mandated honest and accurate labeling (or, to be truly free-market, a relaxation of protections that prevent consumer report groups from honestly assessing and distributing information about food). Resources to promote a more informed public. Then, if people want to load up on HFCS, let them, assuming they incur the costs of what that does to their body. If they want to load up on organic soy and ultimately get beat up for being an annoying hipster, well, they are on the hook for that as well.

    The problem is, as someone else pointed out, the scales are already tipped too far in promoting this crap. The government subsidizes its production, allows commercials that promote its benefits but not commercials that demonstrate truths, and does not require that the companies have any accountability (even mandated calorie counts are woefully inaccurate). As a result, either a massive undoing of this imbalances is necessary, or something must be done to counter on the other side. A tax is one idea. It’s not a great idea. And it should be read as an admission of guilt by the government in their complicity. But maybe it’s enough to start a conversation about how things can be more equitable.

    Once the playing field is level, then we can let the “stupids” get what they deserve. But until then, do they really “deserve” what is being unfairly thrust upon them?

  15. Keith,
    I’m surprised that you aren’t more on board with those of us who don’t have faith in the intelligence of our fellow Americans. As someone whose articles get the inane comments they do from members of “sports nation,” how do you not doubt the intelligence of the average person? You are clearly more forgiving than I.

  16. Point 1: Australia doesn’t protect domestic sugar so they have an abundance of cheap imported sugar. Australia is also seeing a parallel rise in obesity to the United States. So, the problem isn’t HFCS, rather an abundance of ridiculously cheap sweetener (America’s sweetener is HFCS, Australia’s is sugar) that are then used to sweeten many foods with little to no impact on price. While it’s true that the corn subsidy is a contributor to America’s obesity problem, it is not true that eliminating the subsidy and releasing regulations on foreign sugar will solve, or even lessen, the problem.

    Point 2: HFCS is so cheap it only accounts for, at most, 1% of the cost of the end product. Therefore, a tax on HFCS would not raise the price of consumer products and thus have no effect on consumer habits.

    Point 3: The problem with taxes like these is that they are regressive. I’m not saying poor people drink more soda; I am saying a lower income family’s soda bill consumes a greater portion of its wages. A tax like this has a greater negative impact on the poor than the wealthy. This is just like a lottery or flat tax in that it hurts the nation’s low income population and has little impact on the wealthy.

    Point 4, Regarding the ‘nanny state': A government doesn’t legislate to control an individual’s actions. Policy is created from the perspective of its macro effect on a population. Even though I can drive safely at 90 mph on the highway, the governing body must consider all types of cars on the road and all the people driving when setting the speed limit. This is not meant to be analogous to the soda tax situation (obviously my driving habits affect more people than my choice of beverage) but rather an illustration of why arguments about policy are better constructed around its impact on the population than on an individual.

  17. Paul: http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/v16/n8/full/oby2008290a.html

    “the lifetime medical costs of excess weight impose a substantial drain on scarce health-care resources, even after accounting for differential survival rates.”

    Obo, your points are well taken and made, but I find a flaw in regards to point #3. While a tax on soda would “hurt” the poor more than the wealthy, the strong possibility that most poor people will turn to healthier beverages is a step in the right direction. Not only will poor people save on medical expenses (which would probably far exceed the cost of taxes on soda), but they will also live longer as a result. I’m pretty sure most people will trade money for some extra years of life.

    Keith, the demands for higher quality food (no trans-fat, whole wheat, etc) can not be attributed to the majority of Americans, but rather to a select group of educated, intelligent Americans. As Chris already pointed out, I think you just need to read the comments sections on ESPN articles. I’m sure most of the people that read your blog eat whole wheat food, but how many of them don’t have an IQ above 100?

  18. Paul H,

    Fresh Market carries the Mexican import Coca-Cola made with real sugar (at least in Charlotte) and prices it like you would expect an import to be priced in Soviet Russia. That said, at the consumption rateof one or two per week, the cost of the upgrade is more than worth it.

  19. Aiden, there was that case study about saving for retirement that might be relevant. A company changed its policy: rather than relying on an employee to adjust the amount contributed to his (without loss of generality regarding gender) 401k, the company asks the employee, during the first month of work, if he would like to have his contribution increased each year by the same percentage as his raise. This resulted in a statistically significant increase in 401k contributions for this company. People can make good long term decisions. It’s the immediate choices that are hard: ‘I will increase my savings next month,’ or ‘I’ll start drinking water instead of soda tomorrow.’

    I do think this country’s food system is broken. However, I don’t think the answer is for the government to discourage, through tax, consumption of unhealthy foods. They could discourage unhealthy habits by educating parents. Oh, how parents could solve this country’s problems. Or, how could the government encourage farmers to produce more fruits and vegetables? How about a dark leafy green subsidy!?

  20. just a side note, my wife teaches at a title one school and they are required to give students breakfast each morning. I asked her what the government fed the kids each day this week so far:

    Monday: Cereal (choice of Cocoa puffs or trix)
    Tuesday: packaged and pre-heated waffles.

    She volunteered additional information of what was recently served to the kids: bagel sticks filled with cream cheese, packaged pbj’s, chocolate muffins, etc.

    She was happy to add that she DOES NOT eat anything the kids eat.

  21. If the goal to raise money to subsidize healthcare for the less fortunate and/or encourage people to be healthier, a soda tax is like throwing a pebble at a tank.

    This is what has annoyed me (and i’m sure others) about the healthcare debate from day one. The idea of expanding care to all and the legislation being proposed aren’t close to being equal.

    One side screams “communist” or “socialist” at everything proposed, while the other side is trying to convince me they’ll expand care to 50 million people (allegedly) by eliminating fraud (which the govt has already failed at preventing), taxing .5% of the population, etc.

    It’s total lunacy from all sides. We need a FJM for politicians.

  22. An FJM for politicans would be impossible to staff sufficiently.

  23. Here’s a thought. Suppose the purpose of the tax is to spur conversation about nutrition and healthy living. Suppose its intent is to raise awareness among parents about what they are feeding to their kids. I think those are good things and this comment board is evidence that it’s working superbly.

  24. Obo, you give politicians far too much credit. There’s already plenty of discussion on the health downsides of soda/HFCS. As has been stated before, the sheer logicfail of making a product more unhealthy by subsidizing/protecting, then taxing the product because it’s unhealthy is mind-boggling. Want to raise revenue and stop people from consuming HFCS? Stop buying up Mexican sugar and subsidizing corn.

  25. Keith, I recommend the movie Food Inc. It lets us know how disconnected we are from our food sources. Lets just stop the subsidizing of Corn.

  26. I hate to interrupt this riveting food discussion, but since we’re talking about basic needs of man, I’m trying to get a good look at Kseniya Simonova but even in Google, it’s hard to tell if she’s really hot. Not that the sand art isn’t impressive – it is – but it never hurts if the woman looks good too…