A recent Harvard study concluded Jacksonville residents could save close to $40 million in health care costs annually if the city were to tax sugary drinks.
Researcher Steve Gortmaker said the tax would help cut down on obesity.
Gortmaker used a digital model similar to the popular life simulation game “The Sims” to figure out how the health of Jacksonville’s nearly 1 million residents would fare if they drank less sugary drinks.
Adults who increase their sugary drink consumption by one 12-ounce serving daily gained on average an extra pound every four years, according to seperate Harvard study. The National Institutes of Health study found that for every 12-ounce soda children drank daily, the odds of becoming obese increased by 60 percent.
Gortmaker explained his support for the tax on WJCT’s “First Coast Connect” last week.
“In the same way that, you know, tobacco smoking causes extra health care costs,” he said. “So if you can slow the consumption of sugary beverages, you can slow the rise of obesity diabetes and health care costs and actually save money.”
His team estimates River City residents spend more than $300 million on drinks like sodas, juices and smoothies every year.
A handful of cities, including Philadelphia, have already implemented such a tax, but not without a lot of bellyaching. Opposition comes from both small-government conservatives who see the tax as an attack on freedom of choice and liberals, who say sales taxes disproportionately penalize the poor.
Gortmaker counters: a tax would curb sugar drink consumption across all socioeconomic classes.
“The one thing that would happen for poor people with a tax like this is they would be spending less of their money on a beverage that is killing them. And from my perspective that’s a good thing,” he said.
He says a 1-cent tax on every ounce of sugary drink would net Duval County taxpayers annual revenue of nearly $40 million.
A Duval Health Department spokesman said his office isn’t recommending the tax, but rather is focusing on educating children and adults about healthier options that are available.
Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at (904) 358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.