Taxes On Sugared Beverages Being Discussed To Help Obesity Problem

A perspective article published on April 8, 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), raises the idea of adding an additional tax on high sugar drinks. The NEJM article notes that sugared drinks may represent the single largest contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United States. They identify drinks such as soda sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, or other sweeteners and other carbonated and uncarbonated drinks, such as sports and energy drinks.

The authors of the NEJM article note that there are some studies that do not connect these drinks with obesity. However, they dismiss these objections by noting, “Studies that do not support a relationship between consumption of sugared beverages and health outcomes tend to be conducted by authors supported by the beverage industry.”

The NEJM article and several new articles in the general media report that currently 40 states now have taxes on soft drinks or snack foods, but that these taxes are small and do not affect the consumption of these beverages. However, ABC news reported in an April 8, 2009 news story that the governor of New York was proposing an 18 percent tax on sugared beverages.

The ABC article addresses the question if higher taxes would lower the consumption of sugared drinks by looking at the example of tobacco. Increased taxes on tobacco have been credited with dramatically lowering usage. They then claim that economic studies on soft drinks show that a 15 percent tax on sugared beverages should drop consumption by 12 to 15 percent, and higher taxes would have stronger effects.

The authors of the NEJM article summed up their conclusions by stating, “A penny-per-ounce excise tax could reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10%. It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task. In contrast, a sales tax on sugared drinks would generate considerable revenue, and as with the tax on tobacco, it could become a key tool in efforts to improve health.”