Increasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes to Combat the Obesity Epidemic

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Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the US. Today, nearly one-third of all children and adolescents in the country are overweight or obese. Children with obesity demonstrate lower performance at school and are at increased risk of having low self-esteem. Additionally, they have a higher chance of being obese as an adult, putting them at greater risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other serious obesity-related diseases.

Although the cause of obesity is multi-factorial, research has shown that the rising consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. SSBs include not only soda drinks, but also sports and energy drinks, fruit punch, lemonade, sweetened powder drinks, and even some fruit juices. It is often difficult for consumers to understand the deleterious effects of SSBs due to a lack of information, a lack of affordable alternatives, and strong advertising and marketing influences of the beverage industry. Rising obesity rates have spurred policymakers into considering policies that will improve access to affordable, healthy foods and increase physical activity in schools and communities. Despite these policies, more needs to be done to target the consumption of SSBs.

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To reduce consumption of unhealthy beverages, promote public health, and generate revenue to be funneled back into obesity prevention programs, as of January 1, 2014, 34 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) applied sales taxes to regular, sugar-sweetened soda sold through food stores. Unfortunately, the average tax rate in these states have been modest at best, averaging only 5.2 percent, resulting in little impact on consumption or weight. Research has shown that relatively large increases in taxes can be effective in reducing consumption on cigarettes and tobacco products. Furthermore, some studies have shown that significant differences in the relative prices of healthier beverages compared with less healthier ones could help to reduce BMI and the prevalence of obesity

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Given the ever-increasing rate of obesity in the US, it is imperative that US Congress act now by acknowledging the link between SSBs and obesity and implementing a federal law to increase taxes on SSBs as a public health intervention to reduce SSB consumption and combat the obesity epidemic.

http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2009/rwjf43487

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7 Responses to “Increasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes to Combat the Obesity Epidemic”

  1. aftsesinnovations Says:

    In DC, if you purchase something from a store and need them to provide a plastic bag to carry your purchases, you have to pay 5 cents. That 5 cents makes me either bring my own bag, or carry my purchases sans a bag. A tax on SSBs small or large, can have far reaching effects on consumer behavior. A slight increase in price, as shown in Mexico, curtails purchases significantly which is wonderful for the health of the people. Additionally, such taxes will help subsidize the costs of taking care of people who have developed diseases due to their poor lifestyle habits. I support this proposal full heartedly.

  2. cjjar Says:

    Thank-you for this interesting post, tackling the ‘supply’ side of obesity-causing substances. Of course a focus on decreasing the ‘demand’ through changed behaviours and healthier lifestyles is also important. I was interested to read that Mexico’s 10% tax on sugary drinks showed promising declines in sales of such drinks only one year after implementation (http://time.com/4168356/mexico-sugar-drink-soda-tax/). I would also propose that income from such a beverage tax be invested into healthy lifestyle programs to further get at the root of obesity. One example of this, is the famous chef Jamie Oliver, who imposes a levy on sugary soda in all of his restaurants, then invests the revenue into an organisation focused on healthier food and farming (http://www.jamieoliver.com/theplan/).

  3. 08branding Says:

    I thought this was a very interesting post on multiple levels. I remember when I was in middle school, the band director asked for soda vending machine to be placed by the entrance to the band room to serve as a fundraiser. The band room was located next to the PE locker rooms so after class, many students would line up to get a cold Pepsi or Gatorade. I must admit that I was one of those kids. When I became a teacher, I thought back on those experiences and I remember there was a soda machine in the teacher’s lounge. Although students were not allowed in the lounge, they would give teachers some money after-school so that they could purchase them a drink. There was another teacher who would also sell soda as a fundraiser for his club during the school dances. It seems like a minor change in consumption can go far but to as was mentioned in the blog, the sales tax was so small that I didn’t even realize there was such a tax in my home state of Hawaii. I had to look at the referenced chart myself to see that there is in fact a 4% sales tax on soda purchased in the stores and through vending machines. While I agree that raising the federal tax on Sugar Sweetened beverages can make a difference, I think that there needs to be even greater media coverage to highlight the negative effects on obesity. The problem with SSBs is that they are so easily accessible and there is not enough negative advertising regarding the long-term effects of consumption. Tobacco, on the other hand, is heavily regulated in stores with extensive advertising, like thetuth.com. As public health students, we understand that obesity is responsible for many rising health problems in developed countries but there is not enough public attention on the confounding factors leading to this epidemic. Furthermore, even if the tax is raised on SSBs, I am pretty sure that it will still end up being cheaper than organic and healthy beverages. There must be more strategic ways of lowering the costs of healthy beverages so that not only the rich are capable of living healthy lives.

  4. mrivera Says:

    I completely agree that something needs to be done to combat the obesity epidemic, and sugar sweetened beverages are a great place to start. Children in the US are drinking up to 30% of the calories they consume in a day, with juice, soda, and exercise drinks. A tax on sugar sweetened beverages is a good start, but likely not enough. Water needs to always be more affordable to buy than sweetened beverages which at this point it is not and advertising on sugar sweetened beverages for children need to be regulated. Juice has a “health food” connotation if it has natural sweeteners, when in reality it is still just empty calories. This problem needs to be tackled from multiple levels. From the policy level- making changes in schools, making changes to the WIC program to not provide any juice at all, sugar sweetened beverage taxes. At the community level- community organizations diffusing information and hosting campaigns against sweetened beverages. At the personal level- physicians counseling against them, parents removing them from the home. At my last pediatric practice we had a basket filled with empty bottles of sugar sweetened beverages that were filled with cubes of sugar that were equal to the amount of sugar in each drink. Parents were shocked when they had a visual of the actual amount of sugar in each. It is a complex problem that I agree, more needs to be done for.

  5. Fátima Reynolds Says:

    Mexico is already seeing positive outcomes on this front with its own tax on SSBs. If that can work in a country where soda is so deeply embedded in the culture, the U.S. can definitely start to impact its own obesity epidemic with similar efforts.

  6. rupaltbhakta Says:

    As a pediatrician by training, I have seen the consequences of our diet in the population of children that I saw through a primary care setting. Not only was obesity a problem, but all of the diseases that are associated with obesity. We saw a rise in type 2 diabetics, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia to name a few comorbidities.

    The other factor that would need to be addressed along with a tax on sugary-beverages, is counselling in a community that drinking these beverages are the norm. Behaviors often arise from habits mimicked from parents and adults and also not knowing the detriment from consuming these beverages.

    Now that I am an ICU physician, these measures have become more important to me as I have seen how deadly the long term consequences of the diseases associated with obesity can be for a child.

  7. akwascot Says:

    I like the idea of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages better than other proposed ideas to combat obesity, such as not allowing SNAP benefits to be spent on sodas. The tax, although it will be felt more in lower SES individuals, is equal in the sense that all consumers will be affected. I also like that it is a mild disincentive to purchasing sodas, and access to the products is still very much available (since the tax would not be monumental).

    I think the tax, when used in conjunction with other measures such as menu labeling and healthy alternatives, will absolutely make a difference in the obesity epidemic. While I agree also that the taxes have been minimal in areas such as DC, I think time will show if the overall consumption drops.

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