High-sugar drinks promote excess caloric intake and contribute to the obesity pandemic, but there are limited pharmacotherapies to suppress sugar craving and intake. In lieu of formal therapeutic options, Mexico and Britain have pursued another strategy to reduce sugar intake: the sugar tax. Early data suggest that it can work to discourage the purchase and intake of sugary drinks, and others are taking notice.
In a special symposium on April 3, three speakers will address how the food landscape impacts childhood obesity, the economics of tax design on sugar/food intake in Mexico and the United Kingdom, and the epidemiology used to model how a sugar tax might affect consumption in the United States.
“The Sugar Tax: Can We Really Legislate Weight Loss?” begins at 8:00 AM on April 3 in Room W224C. The session will suggest whether “legislative abstinence” can affect obesity outcomes, thus appealing to clinicians treating obesity and basic scientists interested in appetite and obesity.
The symposium kicks off with “The Epidemiologist’s Perspective.” Michael Long, SD, MPH, conducts research at the intersection of epidemiology and quantitative policy analysis with the goal of identifying cost-effective and politically feasible policy solutions to promote community health. Long’s work over the past decade has focused on identifying policy approaches to reversing the obesity epidemic in the United States. Long is an assistant professor in the Department of Prevention and Community Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.
After Long speaks, Shu Wen Ng, PhD, will present “The Economist’s Perspective.” Ng is a health economist whose main scholarly objective is to further understanding of individual and household-level decisions about dietary and activity behaviors and their health impact. Ng’s research acknowledges that such decisions are constrained by monetary, time, and biological factors, and are made within a broader environmental or policy context. Ng has been co-investigator on several foundation and National Institutes of Health studies that use ‘big-data’ on commercial store sales, household purchase, and nutrition label data at the barcode level (scanner data), alongside dietary intake and nutrition databases. In analyzing such data, she has studied how policies such as taxation or quotas affect consumer purchases, diet, nutrition, and health outcomes across many settings. In addition, Ng has analyzed historical time-use data from a range of countries to estimate activity levels across domains of daily living and to identify trends and patterns by subpopulations.
The symposium will wrap up with a presentation by Brian Elbel, MPH, PhD, on “Obesity: What Policies Address It and How Well Do They Work?” Elbel studies how individuals make decisions that influence their health and healthcare, with an emphasis on evaluation, obesity, and food choice. Elbel’s work uses behavioral economics to understand health and healthcare decision making among vulnerable groups, and the role and influence of public policy on these decisions. Current research includes how to use behavioral economics to influence physicians’ prescribing practices; the impact of public policies mandating calorie labeling in restaurants; the impact of policies supporting the development of supermarkets in high need areas; and the influence of the food environment on childhood obesity; among others.