Field Notes

Study Examines Federal Blocking of Sugary Beverage Taxes

Federal, state, and local governments all have roles to play in protecting health. Federal and state governments, however, can alter or hinder state and local activity through a legal mechanism called preemption—when a higher level of government blocks the action of a lower level of government. An increase in state preemption of local food policies led a research team to assess whether preemption of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) by the federal government would likely be based on Congress’ historical rationales for preempting taxes.

SSBs are associated with obesity, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. As of June 2017, eight US cities have enacted SSB taxes aimed at reducing consumption, and several other states and municipalities are considering them. Excise taxes can reduce consumption, improve health, and raise revenue for budget-constrained governments.

The research team, from New York University’s College of Global Public Health and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, reviewed legislative histories of federal bills and laws that had a central and express purpose of preempting state taxes. The goal was to determine whether historical rationales for preempting taxes applied in the case of SSB taxes.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that Congress historically preempted state taxes to ensure they didn’t interfere with the goals of national programs or the proper functioning of interstate commerce. The authors found that neither of these justifications applies to SSB excise taxes.

“Preemption of public health policies, and specifically SSB taxes, undermines local control, challenges the financial stability of local governments, and extinguishes grassroots movements. SSB taxes don’t interfere with federally funded national programs or put efficient interstate activity at risk; thus, there’s a dearth of legal or historic precedent to justify Congress preempting them,” says Jennifer L. Pomeranz, MPH, JD, an assistant professor and interim chair of public health policy and management at New York University’s College of Global Public Health. “Advocates and state and local policymakers should be vigilant to preserve their powers to tax and safeguard the population’s health,” she says.

“In recent work, we’ve identified sugar-sweetened beverage consumption as one of the leading dietary priorities for reducing diabetes, stroke, and heart disease deaths among Americans. There are individual health burdens and health care costs associated with SSB consumption, with mounting related health burdens and health care costs for the nation. SSB taxes should be used as a powerful tool to save lives, raise revenue, and reduce health care costs,” says last author Renata Micha, PhD, a research associate professor at the Friedman School.

— Source: Tufts University


Calorie Reduction, Exercise Improve Muscle Function
in Older Adults

Improved muscle performance starts with better mitochondrial function. Older adults who are overweight may improve their muscle function with a weight loss program that combines exercise and calorie reduction, according to researchers from Florida Hospital in Orlando, who presented their findings at the American Physiological Society’s “Physiological Bioenergetics: Mitochondria From Bench to Bedside” conference in San Diego.

The researchers studied three groups of obese seniors (average age 70) over the course of six months. One group followed a reduced-calorie diet to lose weight. A second group combined calorie restriction with a supervised exercise program. A control group attended health education classes but didn’t follow any specific diet or exercise program.

The research team took samples of muscle fibers from all volunteers before and after the trial period to measure the mitochondria’s ability to use oxygen and provide the cells with energy (mitochondrial respiratory capacity). Mitochondrial respiratory capacity typically decreases with age as some people become less active and gain weight. “Increased mitochondrial capacity is desired, as it translates to greater metabolic and muscular functions,” according to lead study author Giovanna Distefano, PhD.

The researchers found no change in mitochondrial respiration rate in the control and calorie-restricted groups. The exercise and diet group, however, demonstrated improved mitochondrial respiration rates and a higher exercise capacity. These results suggest that “the addition of exercise training to a calorie restriction-induced weight loss program is essential to promote improvements in mitochondrial capacity,” according to Distefano.

— Source: American Physiological Society