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How to Avoid a David and Goliath Situation April 24, 2009

Posted by Nora in Health Communications & Marketing, Prevention, Social Marketing, Wellness.

I was reading  the request for public comment on the 2009 re authorization of the Child Nutrition Programs as well as the relevant comments the other day and I saw a few concepts being thrown the governments way. One was to ban all sugared sodas, the other asked for taxes. This isn’t surprising, sugared sodas have been touted as one of the main contributors to the childhood obesity problem in the United States. I do not take issue with this fact, but the fact that the current ( widely accepted) policy recommendation, namely, a tax on sugared drinks, might be possible, but to my knowledge, no viable policy recommendations have been made to achieve this end.

For example, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine is an article that addresses the potential positive impact of taxing sugared drinks on the growing childhood obesity problem in the United States. The article posits that:

A penny per pound excise tax ( on sugared drinks) could reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10%. It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude by education alone, even if the government devoted massive resources to the task.

This article goes on to make several valid points, noting that the efficacy of this type of tax has been confirmed by similar taxing schemes in the tobacco industry. Although I feel that this article makes several valid points, there is an aspect of implementing this type of tax that has been entirely disregarded. Conspicuously absent is a discussion of the industries that this decision will impact. In this case I believe that several relatively strong lobbies would become highly involved in this type of issue.

For example, the agribusiness lobby, which is a giant in the lobbying field, is notorious for its ability to block various types of legislation.  If a tax is implemented, the reduction in corn sales that will result from the reduced consumption of high fructose corn syrup alone is enough to cause a significant reduction in profits in this sector. Given this economy, it is foreseeable that the argument will be made that many people will lose their livelihoods if such a tax is implemented.

I think it is possible to implement this tax, and I think it would be helpful– but compromise on some level with the industry is absolutely necessary. I think that  policy makers might be able to get the soda industries backing ( another presumptive giant in the lobbying industry) if they reduce taxes on artificially sweetened or non sweetened drinks for example.  So to sum it up, if you want to battle with giants, you might want to forgo the David and Goliath situation, an actually get a giant on your side.



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