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Soda taxes are controversial, but do they work?

Soda taxes are becoming more popular in the United States, much to the chagrin of small government advocates. The taxes – which often include all sugary drinks, not just sodas – have caught on in a handful of U.S. cities and counties.

More than a dozen other countries have debated and in some cases adopted soda taxes or limited on the amount of sugar drinks could contain. Some require warnings on sugary drinks.

New research shows that despite the controversy, the taxes and regulations may help reduce obesity.

A collection of studies and data will be presented today at Nutrition 2019, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, which is began June 8 in Baltimore and will run until June 11.

Among the posters and presentations at the meeting:

  • A new study estimates a nationwide, 1-cent tax on sugary drinks could prevent as many as 17,000 obesity-related cancer cases and 10,000 cancer deaths. The research, which will be presented by Christina Griecci of Tufts University on Sunday, predicts that the tax could bring savings of $2.4 billion on lifetime medical costs.
  • Tufts researchers also found that a tiered tax that charged more for drinks with higher sugar content was the most effective deterrent. Such a tiered tax could prevent 460,000 cardiovascular issues and 60,000 cases of type 2 diabetes over a 10-year span, researchers found. Dr. Yujin Lee will present the findings on Tuesday.
  • Anna Grummon of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill will present a pair of studies that found health warnings can discourage people from purchasing sugary beverages and that they might also reduce cases of obesity.

Those studies are among several at Nutrition 2019 examining average soda consumption, how sugary drinks affect gut microbiomes and inflammation, and the link between beverages and prediabetes in Latino children.

They add to a growing collection of studies showing that soda taxes, while unpopular, may be effective – at least in reducing sales of soda and energy drinks.

Soda taxes have been linked to a 52 percent decline in sugary drink consumption – and a 29 percent increase in water consumption – in Berkeley, California, and a 38 percent drop in drinking such beverages in Philadelphia.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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