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U.S. obesity rates could fall if soda pop prices rise

June 18, 2010

Raising the price of sugary soft drinks will likely prompt thirsty consumers to seek out cheaper, healthier beverages, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

They said raising the price of a can of soda by 35 percent cut soft drink sales in a hospital cafeteria by 26 percent, offering some evidence that adding a tax to soda pop may prod consumers into making better choices.

Obesity adds an estimated $147 billion a year in costs to the U.S. health care system and several states, including New York and California, have weighed a tax on sweetened soft drinks to defray the cost of obesity-related diseases.

“Obesity is at epidemic levels. It’s an incredibly difficult and complicated problem,” said Dr. Jason Block of Harvard University in Boston, whose study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

He said soft drinks have been increasingly recognized as a major contributor to the country’s growing obesity epidemic.

First Lady Michelle Obama last month unveiled a 70-point plan to reduce childhood obesity which called for an analysis of the impact of local sales taxes on consumption of less healthy foods.

Too much sugar not only makes people fatter, but is also a key culprit in diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

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