Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Profits of Obesity

Cases of sugary soft drinks for sale.
We all know that obesity causes diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, as well as myriad other diseases, making it one of the biggest preventable killers.

However, other people know something else about obesity: There's lots of money in it.

That's why a phalanx of economic heavyweights are lobbying hard against a proposal to increase Colombia's tax on sugary soft drinks.

Big companies like Coke, Pepsi, the Oxxo junk food chain, and supermarkets all earn fortunes every year by pushing empty calories onto us. However, judging by the statements of Fenalco, Colombia's National Federation of Businesses, you might think that all they cared about were the 'little people'.

A tax on soft drinks, Fenalco warns, will cause layoffs in bottling plants, hurt mom-and-pop corner
Soft drink industry workers protest a new tax on Plaza Bolivar.
stores and disproportionately cost poor families. While there may be some truth to those assertions, you'd be forgiven if you smelled hypocrisy in the corporate statements. After all, these same soft drink companies are happily working with the chain stores which are trying hard to drive those mom-and-pop groceries out of business. And I'm sure that those bottlers now crying over the fate of their hourly workers are doing their best to cut costs by automating those same workers out of their jobs. And those rich companies which express so much concern about the poor are happy to sell those same poor people harmful junk food they can't afford.

And whose to say that whatever money the poor don't spend on soft drinks won't be spent instead on healthier fruits, breads and even school books? Poor people tend to spend their limited money quickly. So that will generate other, different jobs.

Obesity is a growing problem in Colombia.
Fenalco is also correct when it claims that a soda tax won't end obesity. But it might reduce it, at least a little bit.

And tax critics are also correct in saying that all sugary foods should be taxed equally, and I'm at a loss as to why they don't just tax sugar at its source - perhaps because the sugar lobby is just too strong. But taxing soft drinksis, at leastt, a start.

The corporations have good reason for concern. In Mexico, California and other places soda taxes have been shown to decrease consumption. By the same token, higher cigarette taxes reduce smoking, especially among children, which is why it's good that the reform will also increase the cigarrette tax.

The lobbies against tax hikes on soft drinks, cigarettes and other harmful products are classic
The Oxxo junk food chain pushes soft drinks.
examples of vested interests fighting to protect their fortunes - no matter the harm to their customers and society.

In a just world, companies would be required to pay the public costs caused by their products - in this case, disease, and, why not, the collection and disposal of all those discarded empty bottles.

Pushing 'double sweet' treats outside a McDonald's in La Candelaria.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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