Health advocates push for tax on unhealthy foods

Some public health advocates are pushing cities and states to tax fattening, non-nutritious foods, like sugary soda, french fries, and donuts.

Opponents say Americans should have the right to eat what they want without being unfairly taxed for their choices, and that poor people would end up paying too much.

For the nation that created cheap, fast food, we're paying quite a hefty toll, CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller reported on "The Early Show."

When it comes to what we eat, many Americans are making bad choices.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told CBS News, "Soft drinks have been treated almost like water; it's part of the average meal."

And poorer consumers are often priced out of healthier options, because fresher, purer foods cost more.

With the percentage of obese adults doubling in the past 30 years and the percentage of obese children tripling, the annual health care cost of obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has soared to over $100 billion.

Mark Bittman, author and food columnist, said, "We ought to start discouraging the consumption of junk food, soda, and hyper-processed foods the [same] way we discourage smoking."

Some industry experts, including Bittman, think soda and junk food should be taxed - just as cigarettes are.

Bittman said, "The way we discouraged smoking and continue to discourage smoking is we tax cigarettes - a lot in some states - and we force the tobacco companies to contribute money to anti-smoking programs.

"Now, if we taxed soda and junk food similarly, and began a huge public health campaign that said, 'This is the way we ought to eat,' we might see similar results."

According to Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a national penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate some $13 billion a year in tax revenues.

Miller reported the aim is to institute a "junk food" tax and "whole food" subsidy - to raise the price of foods high in fat, calories and preservatives, and drop the cost of fresh vegetables, fruits and other organic perishables.

A study by Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health estimated that, in New York State alone a penny-tax-per-ounce of sugar-sweetened beverages would save $3 billion in health care costs over 10 years.

While some say a new tax is the last thing we need, Miller observed it could mean a healthier America