Another look at soda taxes…

Using taxes to control the consumption of harmful products, including sugar-sweetened soda, is a matter of intense debate (see, e.g.,  A PHS 795 student points to a post on Kaiser Health News and questions the evidence on the effectiveness of soda taxes:

Last week, the soda-tax was brought up in our Epidemiology class. This Kaiser article discusses the passing of soda-taxes in many cities in the US in the November election. Based on our discussions on utility and marginal cost in class, I find it interesting that many cities are expecting to use a small increase in cost per soda to change the behavior of people in hopes of starting to solve the obesity epidemic and dental decay. Although there might be a causal relationship between sugary beverages and these poor health outcomes, there are many other contributing factors to these health problems. Further, the article doesn’t discuss whether implementing the soda-tax will actually decrease consumption. Instead the article focuses on the amount of tax revenue the soda-tax will bring in for the cities with the soda-tax. How high of an additional cost are people willing to pay before the cost forces a change in behavior? What other systemic issues are at play here that go beyond the cost of soda? The article only begins to touch on the other causes such as education, lack of access to alternative beverages, preference etc.

 1 Leading the Way? Northern California Cities To Embark On Soda Tax Spending

Health advocates are expecting millions in new tax money for health education programs aimed at preventing obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Other cities around the country are mulling similar mea…


4 thoughts on “Another look at soda taxes…

  1. I think this is an interesting article. I do, however, find myself having a different viewpoint than the original commenter on a few things.

    I think the point of the small increase in the cost of soda is not necessarily to fully change behavior (as I agree that a penny increase may not be enough to change behavior), but I think it’s just one mechanism to help in changing behavior. As we’ve seen in multiple conceptual models in this course, there are multiple mechanisms that lead to health outcomes, and I think this is just one. I think the discussion around why the tax is being put into place is enough to get people thinking and talking about it. I also think the revenue generated can help fund education to get people to drink less/stop drinking soda, which is another mechanism to help change behavior.

    Also, the article does link to another study that showed that a soda-tax decreased consumption in another area of California, though they acknowledge that they don’t know whether it was due to the increase in price or the increased awareness:
    “In Berkeley’s low-income neighborhoods, the consumption of soda and other sweetened beverages decreased by 21 percent in the months after the 2014 tax began, according to a UC Berkeley study.
    The study also showed a 63 percent increase in the consumption of bottled or tap water. It is not clear whether these results are due to the higher retail prices of sugary drinks or to the increased awareness on the health effects associated with the beverages, the study notes.”

    (Full disclosure- a public health campaign commercial that showed what happens to your teeth when you drink soda was a huge influence on me limiting and stopping soda intake.)


  2. Increased taxes on unhealthy products is one of the best evidence based strategies for changing behavior. One of the best examples of this success is the tobacco tax: as the price of a pack of cigarettes rose, many people saw it as a highly motivating factor to quit. The only reason why public health professionals often have to resort to more subtle “nudge” techniques to change behavior is that taxes are often politically unpopular or face obstacles from the industry itself. Even though taxes have been so successful, one could argue that there isn’t enough evidence for their effectiveness in minority communities facing health disparities. Although smoking rates have dropped, tobacco use remains high among Native Americans, people in poverty, and people with mental illness. Despite this need for more research, I think that taxes, when politically possible, are an excellent place to start.


  3. I think it is a good way to levy soda-tax because there are around 41 million children under the age of 5 worldwide are overweight or obese, and nearly half of them in Asia. It is also a big issue in my country, China. There are nearly half of all kids drink sugary beverages regularly and half of the population is either diabetic or pre-diabetic. There is no doubt that there are a bunch of country need to join the soda-tax program. If the government would like to conduct the soda-tax program, they should pay attention that how much they will charge for the tax? They should conduct an investigation in the market and figure out the baseline for soda-tax. They need to calculate an “optimal” price to avoid some customers to purchase sodas and also make sure the soda manufacturers are able to reap the benefits as much as possible. At the first step, in order to change customers’ behavior effectively, the government may consider to set a higher tax and establish subsidies program to compensate manufacturers’ losses. Last but not least, the government need to be very careful not to discriminate among brands. They cannot only target the fizzy beverages made by big brands such Coca-Cola or Pepsi and ignore locally make packaged juices, which can be just as unhealthy. In addition, raising funds for education program will be a useful method to reduce obesity as well. The children may raise their awareness on unhealthy behaviors when they are young.


  4. So initially I thought about tobacco tax and how I know several people who stopped smoking because it had become too expensive for them. When it comes to soda I think this is a great idea to raise funds for education programs, but I am not sure if it will really cause a change in people’s behaviors. I can’t tell you how many toddlers I use to see drinking soda or sugary fake juices on the bus every morning on my way to work in Milwaukee. Even with the tax, that sugary juice or soda is still going to be less expensive than healthy alternatives. Also, you must think about where people are shopping. Corner stores do not sell all natural healthy alternatives to soda or these sugary juices, which I also think should be a target along with sodas. A bottle of water in most stores will still most likely be more expensive. Although this could be a good idea, I think education on soda and sugary drinks is most important since we can’t change the price of healthy alternatives. If the tax became so high that it put the healthier option closer to the price of soda it could be more effective.


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