Soda and Snack Tax Could Raise $1.8 Billion For Health Promotion Programs, Yale Study Shows

A one-cent tax on soft drinks, candy, chips and other snack foods could raise $1.8 billion for national health promotion programs aimed at reducing obesity, a Yale study shows.

The tax and resulting revenue were outlined in a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The idea is that a one-cent per pound “snack tax” would be palatable to consumers and the food industry.

“Snack foods are being taxed here and there at the local level, but not at the national level, yet,” said Kelly Brownell, co-author of the study and psychology professor and director of the Center for Eating and Weight Disorders at Yale University. “The food industry hasn’t fought the tax too much at these local levels, but we don’t know what would happen nationally. We think we’re the first ones to propose it.”

The tax proposed in the study would raise $1.5 billion from sales of soft drinks; $70 million from candy sales; $54 million from chips, and $190 million from other snack foods, or fats and oils.

The study also notes that the economic cost of diet-related diseases has been conservatively estimated to be at least $71 billion, annually.

Seventeen states, among them California and New York, already have special taxes on soft drinks or snack foods and raise a total of $1 billion in revenue per year. The revenue, however, is in most cases earmarked for the general fund. Some states use the snack tax revenue to fund specific programs, such as litter control and education.

Brownell and co-author Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said a national opinion poll showed that 45 percent of adults surveyed supported a one-cent tax per pound of soft drinks, chips and butter to fund health education programs.

They said such campaigns can be economical and effective. A public awareness campaign in Clarksburg, West Va., for example, encouraged consumers to switch from higher fat to lower fat milk to reduce intakes of saturated fats. After seven weeks, the market share of one percent or fat free milk increased from 18 percent to 41 percent. The cost of the television and radio campaign was 22 cents per resident.

In contrast, the soft drink industry alone spends more than $600 million on advertising each year, it was reported in the study. The National Cancer Institute spent only $1 million for a campaign to encourage consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Brownell said he and Jacobson believe now is the time to push for national legislation because of the heightened concern about obesity.

“There is even an international crisis that is just not going to be addressed by current actions,” such as weight loss programs and weight loss drugs, he said.

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