Soda taxes do more than discourage consumption

These taxes can also improve the health and economic wellbeing of communities, found public health experts from Harvard University.

Seth Perlman/AP/File
Sodas and energy drinks line the shelves in a grocery store in Springfield, Ill., on May 18, 2016.

Soda taxes can do more than reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages—they can improve the health and economic wellbeing of communities, found a series of reports published by Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study (CHOICES) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. CHOICES explored the long-term cost-effectiveness of soda taxes in four city-specific reports, focusing on Albany, Oakland, and San Francisco, California, and Boulder, Colorado. Each city passed soda tax measures in the November 2016 United States elections, and the reports concluded that these policy measures could reduce rates of obesity and prevent diabetes, leading to a long-term reduction in healthcare costs nationwide.

Despite research into the health costs of heavy consumption of sugary drinks, beverage companies have met the moves to implement soda taxes in cities across the nation with aggressive anti-tax campaigns. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), regular consumption of sweetened drinks like soda is associated with obesity and other chronic health conditions. Regular consumption of sugary drinks can increase the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes by 26 percent, and researchers have found that drinking soda may lead to weight gain for both children and adults.

But, since 2009, the soda industry has spent at least US$67 million in efforts to prevent such taxes at the local level. In the San Francisco Bay Area, soda companies focused their advertising and consumer engagement in low-income and immigrant communities, where community members were divided. The CHOICES reports found that these very communities may stand to benefit the most from soda taxes, where residents tend to consume more sugary beverages and demonstrate higher rates of obesity and diabetes. The taxes, which range from one to two cents per ounce, aim to discourage consumption of sugary drinks while providing an additional source of revenue for municipal governments. And they work—consumers buy fewer sugary drinks, and city governments can reinvest income from soda taxes in programs that provide education and resources about healthy eating and obesity and diabetes prevention.

The CHOICES reports found that taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages would be cost saving in all four cities. In Oakland, California the study predicts that US$30.4 dollars would be saved in health care costs per US$1 invested in implementing and managing a soda tax. 2,140 cases of obesity could be prevented, and citywide, 47 deaths prevented. In San Francisco, the predicted number of deaths prevented jumped to 89, and in Boulder, Colorado, health care savings could be as high as US$42.2 per one dollar spent establishing the tax.

This story originally appeared on Food Tank.

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