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Report: Soda Tax Good For Mass. Health, Wealth

A group of economists and public health experts, including those from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, is calling for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to fight obesity and fund health care costs.

The group says a so-called soda tax could raise $150 billion nationwide in the next decade. Massachusetts could reap $320 million of that, and Boston alone could get almost $30 million.

David Ludwig, who runs an obesity program at Children's Hospital Boston, says those numbers are based on a penny-per-ounce tax on beverages such as soda, sports drinks and sweetened fruit juices.

"A tax that's based just on the purchase of a bottle of soft drink will tend to encourage the food industry to make larger and larger portion sizes, which, of course, takes us in exactly the wrong direction," said Dr. Ludwig, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Ludwig said linking a tax to the amount of sugar-sweetened beverage in a bottle is most effective from a public health standpoint. Under the proposal, a two-liter bottle, for example, would cost about an extra 70 cents.

The group proposing the tax recommends that the revenue generated be used for child nutrition and obesity prevention programs, since the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can increase a person's risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Obesity-related medical costs are estimated at $147 billion annually nationwide.

The group's proposal is outlined in a report (PDF) that appears online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This program aired on September 16, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.

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