The average kid in America, depending on their age group, is drinking between 41 and 108 gallons of sugar sweetened beverages per year.

Think about that for a minute.

  • That’s up to 108 gallons of regular soda, sugar sweetened juice, and sports drinks, like Gatorade, PowerAde and Vitamin Water
  • That’s between 35 and 90 pounds of sugar each year

When I worry about how sugar is added to my diet or my kids’ diets, I think about candy and brownies. In reality, we are, on average, consuming twice as much added sugar through soda and energy drinks than we are through candy or dessert (36% versus 19%, respectively)!

Last week, I participated in a press conference at the Vermont State House with representatives of dozens of other organizations to call on Governor Shumlin and the Vermont Legislature to enact a tax on sugar sweetened beverages (House Bill 234).

I attended in support of the legislation because we are at a crossroads in the fight against obesity:

  • 37.5% of adults are obese (Centers for Disease Control)
  • 58% of Vermont’s adults are overweight or obese
  • 27% of Vermont’s kids are overweight or obese
  • According to public health literature, one-fifth of the weight gained during the obesity epidemic between 1977 and 2007 is attributed to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages

As a practicing physician for more than 20 years, I have seen first-hand the marked increase in overweight or obese Vermonters. In the Emergency Department at the UVM Medical Center, I see the consequences of obesity on a daily basis.  We are seeing more patients with heart disease, strokes, diabetes and arthritis. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher per year than those of normal weight (Centers for Disease Control).

Obesity is a preventable illness, as are the complications of obesity.

At the same time that we are experiencing an explosion in obesity rates, we as a society are struggling to pay for health care, particularly for low- and middle-income Vermonters. This struggle is playing out in the negotiations over the state budget this year: people moving from Catamount Health and VHAP onto the Health Insurance Exchange in 2014 will, without help from the State, face significant increases in their premium and out of pocket costs. Additionally, doctors and hospitals in Vermont who treat people on Medicaid are being paid, on average, less than 40 cents for every dollar of cost of care provided.

I support a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, because I believe that it will help make a dent in our skyrocketing obesity rates at the same time it helps to provide affordable health insurance to low-income Vermonters and sustainable reimbursement rates to our providers.

Stephen M. Leffler, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at the UVM Medical Center, former Medical Director of the Emergency Department, and has been a practicing physician for 20 years. He grew up in Brandon, VT.

Stephen M. Leffler, Professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM and former Medical Director of the Emergency Department, has been a practicing physician for 20 years.

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