Citing research that shows drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is helping fuel the obesity epidemic, Yale University’s Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., and New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, argue for taxing sugared beverages in the April 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
In their ”Perspective” piece, the two review scientific studies that show that taxes could substantially reduce consumption of sugared beverages, cut caloric intake and help prevent obesity and diabetes as well as the consequences of these conditions. Noting that “taxes on tobacco have been highly effective in reducing consumption,” Brownell and Frieden write that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages could both reduce consumption and generate revenue for needed programs to prevent obesity among children and adults.
Soda has become progressively more affordable, while fruit and vegetables have become less affordable, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the past decade, intake of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased by nearly 30%, and children and adolescents now consume 10% to 15% of all their calories in beverages.
Research has linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to poor nutrition, weight gain, obesity and diabetes. Likewise, the authors write, “interventional studies show that reduced intake of soft drinks improves health.” The beverage industry has vigorously opposed soft drink taxes, but Brownell and Frieden argue that such taxes “could become a key tool in efforts to improve public health.”
A penny-per-ounce excise tax would raise an estimated $1.2 billion in New York State alone. More important, the tax “could reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10%,” the authors write. “It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task.” Brownell and Frieden note that taxing on a per-ounce basis is likely to have a much larger health impact than increasing sales taxes. Earmarking some of the tax revenues to address childhood and adult obesity increases public support of taxes on soda, they report.
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