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Can Higher Taxes on Soda Reduce Consumption?

Can Higher Taxes on Soda Reduce Consumption?
That's the sugar in ONE bottle of Coke!

Soda sales are declining in America and that's a good thing. The consumption of sugar-filled soft drinks is one of the causes of the obesity problem. According to Beverage Digest, the average person is drinking 650 eight-ounce servings of carbonated soft drinks a year. It's the lowest level since 1985, but it's not time to celebrate yet.

That's still one 14.5 ounce carbonated soft drink a day, for every man woman and child in the country. If you're drinking the full-sugar variety (let's say Coca Cola) then you're taking in 167 calories and 46.6 grams of sugar a day.

According to the World Health Organization, the maximum amount of sugar a person should take in daily is no more than 6-10% of their calories. That means if you're supposed to eat 2,000 calories a day, you shouldn't take in more than 50 grams of sugar. You get almost ALL that in a regular-sugar carbonated drink.

Diet sodas don't have sugar in them, but they provide problems of their own. Drinking diet soda stimulates appetite. Our stomachs have taste buds. When we drink a diet soda, our stomachs detect "sweet" and start preparing for the sugary calories. Unfortunately, diet soda has none. After about 30 minutes, our bodies start to crash because the "sweet calories" they were expecting never appeared. That makes us feel more hungry and tired than when we first drank the diet soda.

To deal with the hunger and crash, diet soda drinkers eat more calories, totally defeating the reason many drank diet soda to begin with. In a study called, "Diet-Beverage Consumption and Caloric Intake Among US Adults, Overall and by Body Weight" published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that overweight diet soda drinkers consumed an extra 88 calories a day and obese diet soda drinkers consumed an extra 194 calories a day.

To reduce soda consumption, several cities have attempted to put a tax on sugary drinks. Only one, the city of Berkley in California was successful. A tax of one penny per ounce was placed on all beverages sweetened by sugar. The tax included soda, energy drinks and juice, among others.

According to researchers, in the year since the tax passed soda consumption plummeted. Residents drank 21 percent less sugar-sweetened beverages and 63 percent more water. In the same period, San Francisco residents INCREASED their soda consumption by 4 percent and water consumption by only 19 percent.

Many critics point out that intense lobbying and a campaign against soda sales may have led to the decline, rather than the tax itself. But supporters of the plan point out that the tax can provide funding for an ongoing campaign to keep driving demand down.

Before the Berkley tax, the country of Mexico tried something similar. Mexico has the highest per capita soda consumption in the world and it's experiencing alarming levels of diabetes and obesity. In an attempt to slow the trend, a 10% tax on sugary drinks was imposed on January 2014.

Initially, soda sales dropped, but then purchases started to rise again. Despite the higher cost, people didn't seem to want to give up their sugar fix. Sales have been so high, Mexico brought in more than $2 billion in revenue in the first two years the tax was implemented. That's a third higher than originally estimated. The number one Coke bottler in Mexico saw a 5.5% rise in soda volume and the number two Coke bottler saw an 11% increase in sales, when compared to the same quarter a year earlier.

In both cases, the drop in demand seems to be driven by a public education campaign, rather than the tax. After the taxes are added in, consumers simply see a higher price and soda companies are free to continue marketing their sugar-filled products without talking about the health consequences. That doesn't mean the tax is a bad idea. It's probably the best way to pay for a campaign educating consumers about making healthier choices. Similar to how anti-smoking campaigns have been paid in part by tobacco companies.

Whether a tax is implemented or not, the key to reducing soda consumption in the long-run seems to be education, especially with children. The city of Philadelphia offers an example. From 2006 to 2013, Philadelphia school menus were changed, vending machines with soda in them were removed and nutrition education programs were introduced. In that same period, obesity levels for all boys has declined by 8.1 percent and for African-American boys 11.3 percent.

The key is changing attitudes when people are young. According to the managing director of research for the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Mr. Hemphill, “If kids grow up without carbonated soft drinks, the likelihood that they are going to grow up and, when they are 35, start drinking is very low.”

Parents need to pay attention to what their children are drinking. Cut back on sugar-filled drinks. Take sugar-filled drinks and their hunger triggering diet alternatives out of public schools and public buildings. Help them now, so that as they grow up, they'll be less likely to struggle with diabetes and obesity.

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