Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The "obesity tax"

I thought about posting on this a few days ago, when Governor Paterson first proposed a tax on non-diet soda, and decided that other folks had tackled it ably, so no need.

Tonight, as I was listening to yet another commentator go at this issue on NPR, I thought about my friend P., who became diabetic a couple of years ago, stopped eating sugar altogether, lost 30 pounds, and nearly blinded herself cooking with Splenda. She used it in a dish she cooked on the stovetop and leaned over the pot at just the wrong moment. Splenda, it seems, contains chlorine, and apparently some of that chlorine is released during cooking. P. got a faceful of it and went temporarily blind. Luckily she got her vision back.

I thought about the long-running debate over whether aspartame (the artificial sweetener in Equal and NutraSweet) causes cancer. Well, actually, it does cause cancer in lab rats; the question is whether its carcinogenic properties extend to humans, and at what levels/doses. When I was growing up, my mother and grandmother and pretty much every grown-up woman I knew kept a little enameled or cloisonne pill holder in their purses. I used to beg my grandmother to let me use the tiny tongs that came with hers to drop sacccharine pills into her after-dinner coffee. My grandmother died of lymphoma, probably more closely related to her years of smoking than to her saccharine intake. Or was it?

I think Governor Paterson's tax has more to do with New York State's budget deficit than anything else, but I still have to wonder whether he thinks it's better to risk blindness or cancer than fatness. Remember that study where nearly 90 percent of people surveyed said they'd rather be blind than fat? I guess Governor Paterson has his finger on the public pulse after all.


Bill Fabrey said...

Finally, some sense is written about the ridiculous proposed NY tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks. Actually, no soft drinks are part of a nutritious diet, so they should all be taxed equally, or not at all. Besides, nobody ever lost weight and kept it off by using artificial sweeteners. Their bodies can't be fooled, and compensate for the loss of calories by eating more of something else.

Bill Fabrey
Council on Size & Weight Discrimination (
Mt. Marion, NY

Harriet said...

Hear hear, Bill. I looked up your organization. Why haven't I heard of it before? It looks great.

Bill Fabrey said...

Thank you, Harriet. Well, the CSWD has been in existence since 1991, and we are not publicity hounds, but working behind the scenes doing things like attending obesity conferences, discussing chair widths with seating manufacturers, and taking phone calls from people who have been fired because of their weight.

I am also a member of ASDAH (Association for Size Diversity and Health)(, founded in 2003, composed mostly of healthcare professionals; and a member of NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance)( which I founded in 1969. This latter group has been in the news many times, and you may have heard jokes about it on the Tonight show with Jay Leno, and Johnnie Carson before him.

None of these groups promote obesity, but rather, recognize that people naturally come in all shapes and sizes, and that this is not a bad thing. Also, most of us believe that diets fail people, not the other way around. If weight loss diets worked, we would not have so many fat people in the world.

Mrs. B said...

My doctor told me to stay away form aspartame when I was pregnant--I always wondered why I would want it if I'm not.

Anonymous said...

the few times in the past couple years I've eaten aspartame (by accident; always at the house of some well-meaning person who decided to make a "diet" dessert without telling anyone), I've gotten a giant migraine afterwards. And Splenda gives me stomach cramps. And I prefer not to talk about what mannitol and sorbitol do to me.

If they're going to tax "unnecessary" food (though I would argue that is one seriously slippery slope), they should at least tax the "diet" drinks as well as the sugar-sweetened drinks.

Another problem I have with this issue: they want to modify behavior, right? But they're doing it using a tax- which is revenue for the state. So they're saying they want to modify (decrease) a behavior, yet they are going to profit off of people who do that behavior. What would happen if everyone decided to stop drinking pop? They'd be out all that tax money. (Even though I am a non-smoker and frankly loathe to be in areas where people are smoking, I feel a similar way about hiking cigarette taxes: it is disingenuous because on one hand, the state is saying "Don't do this" and on the other hand they are profiting from the thing they are supposedly telling people not to do...)