Soda taxes put brakes on consumer demand for sugar beverages, new study funds

USA – Consumer demand for sugary beverages has been significantly reduced by the implementation of sugar taxes in some jurisdiction, a new study by the University of Illinois Chicago has revealed.  

The researchers analyzed and compared data from Seattle (where the tax was implemented in 2018) to Portland, Oregon, a city of similar size and demographics but without a sugar-sweetened beverage tax. 

Results of the study indicate that the 1.75-cent per ounce tax in Seattle has significantly curbed sales of soda, juice, and other sugar-sweetened drinks. 

Researchers looked specifically at the economic impact the tax had on sales of beverages and sweets sold over the past two years. 

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They analyzed Nielsen retail scanner data on unit sales and measurements of sugar-sweetened products across grocery, drug, convenience, and dollar stores in Seattle and Portland (covering about 45% of all food store sales).  

According to researchers, after two years of implementation, the tax created a 23% reduction in grams of sugar sold from taxed beverages. 

Additionally, the researchers noted a 4% increase in sugar sold from sweets, there was still a net 19% reduction in grams of sugar sold from taxed beverages at two-years post-tax.   

Declines were larger for family-size (29%) compared to individual-size (10%) beverages; particularly for soda (36% decrease for family-size compared to no change for individual-size), added researchers.  

Addressing the possibility that consumers may simply be crossing city lines to purchase sugary drinks at a lower price, researchers said that they found no change in volume sold of taxed beverages in Seattle’s 2- mile border area, suggesting no cross-border shopping.  

 “Our studies show that these taxes have a large, sustained impact on reducing volume and grams of sugar sold from sugary beverages,” said study lead author Lisa Powell, professor, and director of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health.   

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“This suggests that taxes may permanently reduce the demand for sugary beverages and help to lower rates of health harms that are associated with added sugars.”   

While ongoing research indicates sugar-sweetened beverage taxes are curbing sales of sugary drinks, Americans are still consuming too much sugar. 

 50% of adults and 65% of children consume more added sugars than recommended by current Dietary Guidelines, which recommends added sugars make up 6% of average daily energy intake, according to researchers.   

Although the research reveals a certain degree of effectiveness of the sugar taxes, Powell notes that “these taxes are still relatively new, and we need scientific data on longer-term impacts to understand if the policies have the potential to generate sustained public health benefits.”  

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