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Soda tax reduces consumption of sugary drinks

One California city could be setting the stage for other cities to follow in its footsteps

Photo (c) monticelllo - Getty Images
Several cities across the United States have been imposing taxes on sugary beverages in an effort to encourage consumers to make healthier purchases. According to a new study, Berkeley, California has been successful in its efforts on this front.

The city enacted its soda tax back in 2015, and based on three years of research, experts have noticed that sugary drink consumption has dropped by over 50 percent.

“This just drives home the message that soda taxes work,” said researcher Kristine Madsen. “Importantly, our evidence comes from low-income and diverse neighborhoods, which have the highest burden of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a higher prevalence of advertising promoting unhealthy diets.”

The success story

Madsen and her team of researchers have taken to polling local California residents since the tax was first introduced in 2014.

Since becoming law in 2015, the researchers have continued asking locals of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland about their frequency of consuming artificially-sweetened beverages, getting responses from nearly 2,500 people every year.

Based on the surveys, Madsen noticed the strongest success in Berkeley’s residents, and the trend was not consistent in any of the neighboring towns.

According to her findings, sports drinks consumption dropped 60 percent, artificially sweetened teas and coffees consumption went down 70 percent, soda consumption dropped 54 percent, and energy drink consumption dropped 51 percent. Overall, Berkeley residents are drinking 52 percent less sugary beverages than before the tax.

In addition to encouraging consumers to avoid sugary drinks, the tax is also effective in promoting better overall health.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages, which are linked to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, cost our nation billions of dollars each year, but they are super-cheap,” Madsen said. “They’d cost much more if the health care costs were actually included in the price of the soda. Taxes are one way of taking those costs into account.”

Following Berkeley’s success, other states across the country may look to this as an effective way of helping consumers kick their sugary drink habit.

“[Taxes] are one of many ways to make really clear what we value as a country,” Madsen said. “We want to end this epidemic of diabetes and obesity, and taxes are a form of counter-messaging, to balance corporate advertising. We need consistent messaging and interventions that make healthier foods desirable, accessible, and affordable.”

Following suit

Seattle enacted a soda tax at the start of 2018, and by August of last year, the city reported over $10.5 million in earnings, though city officials were unsure how the tax was affecting consumer behaviors.

When Philadelphia tried to implement a soda tax, the city was sued by the American Beverage Industry, residents, and local businesses, all claiming that the tax would be unconstitutional. Though the bill went into effect in early 2017, lawmakers were still unsatisfied, and were working to overturn the bill.

However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had the final ruling, upholding the city’s tax on sweetened beverages. After spending nearly two years in the legal system, the city will be using the money generated by the tax to fund pre-kindergarten and community programs.

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