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Do you love drinking an afternoon soda, or put sugar in your morning coffee? New York policymakers want to charge you a little extra to enjoy your Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola, Iced Tea or any other sugar-sweetened soda or juice.

New York City is currently running an advertising campaign featuring a man drinking a glass of fat, and a soda bottle overflowing with liquid fat. It’s part of an aggressive effort—happening across the country—to reduce people’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

Americans guzzle an average of 50 gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages—including sodas, fruit juices with added sugar, sports and energy drinks, flavored waters and sweetened milk, tea or coffee—per person every year.

That’s not doing our figures any favors.

Researchers blame SSBs, at least in part, for the ballooning obesity crisis, as well as higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Not to mention that soft drink lovers are less likely to get the calcium and other nutrients they need to keep their bodies healthy.

How are policy makers hoping to lower consumption? By imposing a soda tax—a tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages, and possibly diet drinks too.

“In these tough economic times, easy fixes to our problems are hard to come by,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “But the soda tax is a fix that just makes sense. It would save lives. It would cut rising health care costs. And it would keep thousands of teachers and nurses where they belong: in the classrooms and clinics.”

Even a very small soda tax could raise big bucks for your city. In New York City, a 5-cent tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages would generate almost $30 million dollars in 2011 alone—an amount that could help offset obesity-related healthcare costs.

A 2010 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine followed 5,000 young adults over a period of 20 years and found that those who purchased a soda costing $1 dollar or more – ate 124 fewer calories that day. They concluded that an 18 percent increase in the price of soda could amount to a five-pound weight loss per person. Across the whole country, that could be substantial.

A soda tax may even be more effective than subsidies on health food.

The nay-saying experts think a soda tax is unlikely to change behavior and won’t lead to noticeable weight loss. A 2011 study from Northwestern University, led by economics graduate student Ketan Patel, found that obese people, regardless of socioeconomic status, are less price sensitive, meaning that a tax is unlikely to dissuade them from choosing the drinks they love.

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