Will a Sugar Tax Really Improve Oral Health in New York?


Earlier this year, the New York Times ran an op-ed about New York City's proposed sugar tax. The article's author spoke with former Mayor Bloomberg about his new Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health, which pairs him with former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Larry Summers to educate leaders around the globe on the importance of adding a sugar tax to help fight obesity. But is a sugar tax really a good way to fight obesity - or is it just more government overreach into our private lives?

Sugary Drinks vs. Your Diet

According to research from Yale University, soda is the No. 1 cause of obesity in America - more than any other food or drink - because the average American drinks three times more calories from soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks than we did in the 1970s. Even worse, it's mostly empty calories, and with very few exceptions totally devoid of any nutritional value.

So Why Tax It?

Seems like a mean thing to do, to just tax a beverage people enjoy drinking. After all, unlike cigarettes (which are also heavily taxed) soda only hurts the consumer, not the people standing around them while they drink it, right? Well, not quite. Unfortunately, according to economists, the way other people’s soda consumption hurts the rest of us is the cost on society - in other words, we all pay higher premiums on health insurance due to higher rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and, of course, oral health problems like cavities and gum disease. The idea is, when you tax the problem, it helps in two way: by making people less likely to buy soda and by bringing down the cost to treat the fallout from the problem.

Don’t think it will work? It already is in cities around America. In Philadelphia, the soda tax was credited (or blamed, depending on who you ask) for cutting soda sales in half in the first two months the tax was in effect in 2017.

So, How Bad Is the Problem?

It’s pretty bad.

In New York City alone, an estimated one in three third-graders have untreated tooth decay. That’s about 30 percent of all 8-year-olds in New York City - and that’s just third grade! Here in America, an estimated 25 percent of people have little or no routine dental care, while approximately 60 percent of children and 26 percent of adults have untreated decay. Globally, the cost of dental diseases is about $442 billion a year!

Ultimately, if people want soda, they’re going to drink soda - tax or not. But with a tax, they may not drink as much soda, or drink it as often, which may not be as good as stopping drinking it all together, but it's better than doing nothing.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lederman, please give his office a call at 516-882-1764. 

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