Trying to win your own personal battle of the bulge? Well, the last thing you’d ever do is polish off eight teaspoonfuls of sugar.

However, that’s just what you did when you downed that 12-ounce can of regular soda.

Worse yet, at 130 calories, that thirst quencher pushed you over the new American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for added sugar, if you’re a woman (100 calories), and close to it, if you’re a man (150 calories). “Added sugar” is what gets mixed into soft drinks and food before you purchase them; what you sprinkle over cereal or stir in your coffee is extra. Added sugar turns up in food items like fruit juices, candy, cookies, cakes, ketchup, salad dressings and even in some canned vegetables. Even if you swap regular soda for diet, you still may be way over your daily sugar allotment and courting obesity, heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay.

The AHA says sugar-enhanced foods contributed to obesity-related medical conditions that, last year, cost taxpayers $147 billion in health expenditures. Sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks are the primary source of the added sugar infiltrating our diets.

This year’s debate over health care reform – and, in particular, how to finance it – brought some publicity to an idea that is gaining ground at the state level: a sugar tax. This is above and beyond taxes on food that some states like Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia already levy on groceries purchased for home consumption. So far, the sugar tax has been applied mostly to sugar-sweetened beverages, but, theoretically, it could be applied to any product with added sugar. Two thirds of all states already impose some sort of soft drink or snack food tax. For instance, California taxes soft drinks with a sales tax of 7.25 percent, and Kentucky places a six percent sales tax on soft drinks, candy and gum while New Jersey has a sales tax of six percent on candy and carbonated soft drinks.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the resulting revenues – a one penny per ounce beverage tax would raise approximately $16 billion a year, for example – would cut consumption by 13 percent and slow the growth of people dealing with obesity issues.

Similar taxes have already proven effective in deterring people from indulging in smoking and chewing tobacco.  So far, no studies demonstrate that a tax on sugar-added products – or sodas, in particular – reduces consumption or advances health. Still, the nation’s epidemic of childhood obesity has already fostered demands for warning labels on soda cans and restrictions on soda and snack vending machines in schools. Over the last 50 years, average annual, per person soda consumption in the U.S. has increased from 100 (12 oz.) cans to nearly 600, and nutritionists routinely urge overweight individuals to curtail the soft-drink habit.

Could a sugar-added tax be in the nation’s future?

[Janet Lubman Rathner]