Sugary drink tax tied to drop in soft drink consumption

March 11, 2019 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Topics in the News

Sugary drink tax tied to drop in soft drink consumption

People in Berkeley, California, dramatically cut their soda consumption after the city implemented a “soda tax,” a new study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests. 

Three years after Berkeley passed its soda tax in November 2014, residents reported drinking half as many servings of sugary drinks as they did before the tax, the study found. Over the same three-year period, water consumption increased 29 percent. 

The study is the first to document the long-term impacts of a soda tax on drinking habits in the United States. It shows that soda taxes can encourage healthier drinking habits, potentially reducing sugar-linked diseases like diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. 

A number of cities, including Philadelphia and Seattle, now have soda taxes on the books. But both California and Washington state passed bills in 2018 that ban municipalities from implementing soda taxes. 

The bulk of Berkeley’s soda tax revenue is dedicated to supporting nutrition education and gardening programs in schools and to local organizations working to encourage healthier behaviors in the community.

About the study 

To find out about residents’ drinking habits, the team polls around 2,500 people each year in high foot traffic intersections in racially and demographically diverse neighborhoods across Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. 

Surveys revealed a steep drop in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley between 2014 and 2017 for sugary drinks overall as well as for sodas like Coke and Pepsi, sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, and sweetened teas and coffees. 

Residents of neighboring Oakland and San Francisco drank about the same number of sugary beverages in 2017 as they did in 2014, the surveys found. This suggests that changes in drinking habits were unique to Berkeley and not signs of a regional trend in drinking habits unrelated to the tax, researchers conclude. 

Study limitations

One limitation of the study is that the surveys were not a random sample of all residents. Berkeley is also a relatively small and highly-educated city, and results from a soda tax here may not represent what would happen elsewhere. 

But the results do suggest price hikes can help motivate consumers to change their unhealthy habits.

Source: American Journal of Public Health, online February 21, 2019.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.