Local, state soda taxes can advance prevention at a time of healthcare crisis
A new study in Health Affairs shows that purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages fell 9.7% in Mexico in the two years following its implementation of a beverage tax, a success that can bolster similar prevention efforts in cities across the U.S.
As more responsibility to advance prevention and public health moves to local, county, and state entities in the U.S. in the current political environment, Mexico’s results can encourage those considering similar measures. In a broader sense, the success of the tax proves that prevention policy actions focused on norms changes can be cost-effective, with initial outcomes realized quickly.
The study found that households at the lowest socioeconomic level had the largest decreases in purchases of taxed beverages for both years (9% decrease in 2014 and 14.3% in 2015). The burden of diet-related disease falls most heavily on low-income communities and communities of color, and sugary drinks are the biggest driver of diet-related chronic disease, as well as the largest source of added sugar, in the average American's diet.
Drinking just 12 ounces of soda a day can increase the risk of heart disease by a third, and people who consume one to two sugary drinks per day have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers have estimated that a 10 to 20 percent drop in sugary-drink consumption in California would reduce new cases of diabetes by between 1.8 percent and 3.4 percent over a decade, with the biggest reductions for people of color and those with limited income.
A one-cent-per-ounce soda tax in Berkeley implemented in January 2015 has led to a decline in soda consumption of 21% in low-income neighborhoods by August 2016. Soda taxes have also passed in San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany in California; in Boulder, Colorado; and in Cook County, Illinois. Seattle is considering one.
Notably, the new study on the 1-peso-per-liter Mexican beverage tax refutes beverage industry reports that there was a decline in the effect of the tax after its first year. The beverage industry spends about $866 million per year to market to kids in their homes and classrooms and via social networks— marketing that focuses especially on low-income kids of color.
Fees generated through soda taxes can counteract these harmful industry actions and advance health if they are applied toward community prevention strategies. And as health-related savings from soda taxes become apparent, a share of those savings can also be used to provide further resources for community prevention, thus “closing the loop” and providing exponential benefit for health.