A recent review of the research in the area, which included data from six countries, including Mexico and India, found that soda taxes do indeed reduce soda consumption. However, they also prompt substitution – typically fruit juices or milk. While these do have more nutritional value, they do not have fewer calories so it is unlikely that they will have long-term effects on weight.
The bottom line: without addressing why people overeat, obesity can’t be fought effectively. And, though it is not clear precisely what proportion of obesity is linked to trauma – or to the uncontrollable stresses associated with poverty – the correlations here are strong and parallel those seen in other addictions. Researchers have only recently begun to understand how early life stress affects adult health.
For researchers, an important piece of this puzzle began to fall into place with the publication of the Adverse Childhood Experiences studies, starting in the 1990s. The research began when the researcher Vincent Felitti started to notice a link between childhood trauma and obesity in his patients, and then went on to trace the histories of thousands of patients.
An “adverse childhood experience” – or ACE, as it has come to be known – was defined as repeated emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence and other traumas. Emotional and physical neglect were added later as additional categories. Wallace-Ellis experienced every single part of this taxonomy.
Sadly, the research found that these experiences add up: the more types of trauma a child faces, the greater the effects on health. Further, living in poverty magnifies these risks in many ways: there’s a higher risk of parental incarceration, less access to treatment for addiction and other mental illness, and fewer resources to reduce adult stress and minimize the odds of abuse.
Appropriately specified taxes could be one tool for reducing obesity – but unless they are carefully targeted and combined with measures to help those who use food to self-medicate, they will just be cruel to their targets.