Taxing Sodas Won't Spur Much Weight Loss, Study
MONDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Taxing sodas and other
sweetened drinks would result in only minimal weight loss, although
the revenues generated could be used to promote obesity control
programs, new research suggests.
Adding to a spate of recent studies examining the impact of soda
taxes on obesity, researchers from Duke-National University of
Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School looked at the impact of 20
percent and 40 percent taxes on sales of carbonated and
non-carbonated beverages, which also included sports and fruit
drinks, among different income groups.
Because these taxes would simply cause many consumers to switch
to other calorie-laden drinks, however, even a 40 percent tax would
cut only 12.5 daily calories out of the average diet and result in
a 1.3 pound weight loss per person per year, researchers said.
A 20 percent tax would equate to a daily 6.9 calorie intake
reduction, adding up to no more than 0.7 pounds lost per person per
year, according to the statistical model developed by the
"The taxes proposed as a remedy are largely on the grounds of preventing obesity, and we wanted to see if this would hold true," said study author Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor of health services at Duke-NUS. "It's certainly a salient issue. I assumed the effects would be modest in weight loss, and they were."
"I believe that any single measure aimed at reducing weight is going [to be small]," Finkelstein added. "But combined with other measures, it's going to add up. If higher taxes get people to lose weight, then good."
As part of a growing movement to treat unhealthy foods as vices
such as tobacco and liquor, several states in recent years have
pushed to extend sales taxes to the purchase of soda and other
sweetened beverages, which, like other groceries, are usually
exempt from state sales taxes.
Other motions have seemed to target the poor, such as New York
City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal earlier this year to ban
sugared drinks from groceries that could be purchased by residents
on food stamps.
Finkelstein's study, reported online Dec. 13 in the
Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that high soda taxes wouldn't impact weight among consumers in the highest and lowest income groups. Using in-home scanners that tracked households' store-bought food and beverage purchases over the course of a year, the data included information on the cost and number of items purchased by brand and UPC code among different population groups.
Researchers estimated that a 20 percent soda tax would generate
about $1.5 billion in annual revenue in the United States, while a
40 percent tax would generate about $2.5 billion. The average
household cost would be $28.
Finkelstein explained that wealthier households seemed
impervious to the tax because they can afford to pay it, while
poorer income groups weren't as affected because they tend to buy
lower-priced generic products or buy in bulk.
"It's largely very cheap calories for them," he said, adding that store brands such as Wal-Mart cola also contain more calories than the name-brand Coke.
Dr. Stephen Cook, an assistant professor of pediatrics at
Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical
Center (URMC), said the study is valuable because it echoes the
results of others similar to it.
"It's good to see an amount of replication in the findings," said Cook, also an assistant professor of URMC's Center for Community Health. "It brings up an important point of how we should address obesity, as a disease or a public health threat."
Despite the modest weight loss resulting from the soda taxes,
both Finkelstein and Cook support such a measure as one of many
possible ways to attack obesity, which affects one-third of
As for the revenue generated, it can also tackle obesity if it's
funneled toward weight-control programs and not other government
initiatives, Cook said.
"The other side of the taxing coin is what we do with the money," Cook said. "We need to take the revenue and use it for interventional programs instead of it being used as a money grab. I think it's good when it's properly done and the money is used for those strategies."
Cook added that future measures could include taxing foods with
added sugars as well as lowering the prices of healthy foods such
as fruits, vegetables and skim milk.
For more on obesity, go to
for Disease Control and Prevention.
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