Do rising soda prices keep people away from drinking it?

The city of Philadelphia levied a tax on surgical drinks in 2017, for example soda. Has this made any difference to the attitudes of people towards these drinks?

Despite the tax on sugary beverages, citizens of Philadelphia have not changed their soda-drinking habits.

The city of Philadelphia introduced a beverage tax in January 2017 which targets all sweetened drinks sold on the local market.

The levy, also known as the “Philadelphia soda tax,” is 1.5 cents per ounce, and it was implemented by the lawmakers for the purpose of financing prekindergartens specifically.

Also, researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, say that— potentially— such an initiative could also have positive public health implications.

In their new study paper, now published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the investigators write that”[ h]high consumption of[ sugar-sweetened beverages] is associated with increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems.”

People may choose to drink sugary beverages because they cost less than other healthier drinks and are readily available on the market, the authors say.

So, in the new study, they decided to see if increased taxation on sugary drinks would put people off buying them.

The ‘soda tax’ has almost no impact

During the first year of the soda tax, the researchers analyzed trends in sugary drink consumption in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia’s surrounding ares, like Trenton and Camden, NJ, and Wilmington, DE, they have contrasted those patterns with sugar drink consumption habits.

In their final data the researchers included the data of 515 participants. The participants reported how often they drank soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and bottled water, and how much they consumed over a 30-day span of each of these beverages.

At the start of the study, they gave this knowledge (referring to their beverage consumption habits from December 2016 to January 2017) and again at the end (reporting on their habits from December 2017 to February 2018).

Just 25 percent of the participants reported consuming daily sugary beverages.

The researchers found that 39 percent of Philadelphia participants and 34 percent of neighboring participants said they had consumed less sugar-sweetened beverages within the first year of the soda tax.

While this number may seem significant for Philadelphians, it actually only translates into three fewer drinks every month. That is by no means a drastic change from baseline levels.

Taking these results into account, the study co-author Amy Auchincloss, Ph.D., states that although”[ w]e have ample evidence that sugar drinks are related to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues,[…] we are seeing that rising prices of sugar beverages may not impact consumers who do not drink a lot of soda.”

The authors of the study say this may be because the soda tax just isn’t high enough to make a difference. Additionally, it might be because Philadelphians can easily buy sugary drinks from retailers outside their area, which is not affected by tax.

“The availability of untaxed sugary beverages outside of Philadelphia, the still relatively lower price of these drinks compared [with more healthful] ones, and marketing and advertising may explain the low effect of the tax.”

– Lead study author Yichen Zhong

Still, the authors of the study note that even this small new tax- favor public health in the grand scheme of things— though not in the way they expected it.

“While this law was not enacted for health reasons, the tax that produce long-term health benefits for many Philadelphians because tax revenues are aimed at expanding access to quality early childhood education for low-income[ households] children— and education has a positive effect on many health outcomes,” explains senior study author Brent Langellie.

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