Iowa is the 13th-fattest state in the country. More than 30 percent of our adults are considered obese. Meanwhile, our state government is facing a budget shortfall and will need more revenue going forward to sustain basic services.
One idea to address both these issues: a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and soda.
This is not a radical proposal. Several municipalities across the country have imposed a levy on unhealthy drinks to try to curb the obesity epidemic and raise revenue. The taxes imposed in Cook County, Ill., and Philadelphia can include flavored waters, teas and other drinks.
And there is evidence such measures work.
A 2015 World Health Organization review of using price policies to promote healthier diets found taxation led to a reduction in consumption and in many cases a reduction in overall calorie intake.
Mexico's 1-peso-per-liter tax on sodas, roughly 10 percent of the cost, led to a 6 percent decrease in overall sales and a drop of nearly 12 percent among lower-income residents. The consumption of water and non-taxed beverages increased by about 4 percent on average.
Why wouldn't Iowa consider this idea?
This state clearly has little aversion to so-called "sin taxes." Iowa became the first state to pass a tax on cigarettes when lawmakers added 2 cents to the cost of a pack in 1921 — that tax is now $1.36 per pack, compared with 17 cents in neighboring Missouri.
Cigarette taxes are proven to reduce smoking, an addiction that drives up health care costs and kills people. Meanwhile, Iowa reaps financial benefits, collecting about $230 million in fiscal year 2016 from taxing tobacco products.
And this state has no qualms about padding the public coffers with taxes on alcoholic beverages. Our levy on wine is nearly six times higher than Kansas' tax and generated $7.6 million in 2016. Beer sales brought twice as much money to state government.
A special tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and soda, which contribute to everything from obesity to cavities, is in keeping with Iowa's other taxation to discourage unhealthy behaviors.
Of course the Legislature is controlled by Republicans. Many recoil at the word "tax" unless it is part of the phrase "tax breaks for businesses." But some conservatives have a special dislike of soda, even proposing to ban the purchase of it with food assistance benefits. And at least some of them must recognize the state is thirsty for revenue.
Lawmakers could impose the additional fee on sugary beverages and not use the dreaded "t-word" to do it. They could call it something easier to swallow, like a "health tariff" or "anti-fat fee." They could dedicate the money collected to health initiatives, such as fighting obesity or funding Medicaid.
Such fees would make Iowa a healthier state. And consumers who continue to expand their waistlines can help expand revenue sources for a starved state government.