A new study suggests that the first soda tax passed by a US city was effective in reducing consumption of sugary drinks and improving the health of the local population, according to Gizmodo.
Berkeley, California, passed the country’s first tax on sugary soft drinks in 2014, adding a tax of 1 cent per ounce. While the tax directly affects distributors, most have passed the added charges on to consumers. Despite stoking controversy on both sides of the political spectrum, similar taxes have since been adopted by other cities, including Philadelphia and Seattle.
Detractors on the right argue the tax unfairly curtails the free choice of individuals, and critics on the left say the tax disproportionately affects the poor. And until now, there’s been little concrete evidence of any positive health effects, with some researchers arguing that they would be ineffective in even their stated goal of cutting soda intake and improving diets.
But new research on Berkeley’s soda tax, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests the tax has not only reduced soda consumption significantly, but has also led consumers to drink more water.
Supporters of soda taxes argue that while the added costs affect poorer consumers more heavily, those same consumers are especially vulnerable to health problems like diabetes and obesity, which stem from unhealthy diets and sugary beverages in particular. Fast food and soda companies target areas with fewer healthy food options – which when available, also tend to be more expensive.
Although the neighboring cities of Oakland and San Francisco both passed soda taxes in 2017, the study noted that until that point, there was no substantial change in soda consumption there even as Berkeley’s consumption was declining. Three years after the tax was passed, Berkeley residents were drinking 52 percent fewer sugary beverages, and almost 30 percent more water.
“I really want to push back against this idea that taxes are the sign of a nanny state,” said Kristine Madsen, senior author of the study, and faculty director of UC Berkeley’s Berkeley Food Institute. “They are one of many ways to make really clear what we value as a country. 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.”
In addition its link to diabetes and obesity, a new study from the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) found that soda consumption also raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.