The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Debate

Evidence-Based Diabetes Management, December 2014, Volume 20, Issue SP18

The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale released a policy brief in 2012 that recommended beverage taxes for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).1 Considering the high-calorie, zero-nutrition nature of these drinks, the Center’s recommendation is a win-win: a check on the population’s nutrition intake, increased revenue for health programs, and a likely reduction in the medical and insurance costs of diet-related diseases.

Policies enacted by European nations—Denmark, Finland, France, and Hungary—caused 34 states within the United States and the District of Columbia to follow suit by enforcing a soda tax (see Map), according to a research report filed by Bridging the Gap, a program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This is a sales tax levied on the sale of SSBs in food stores and in vending machines. The report states, however, that these sales taxes are too small to have a huge impact (30 states charge <7% in taxes), and so policy makers are looking into the use of excise taxes, with dedicated revenues for public health programs.

A national tax of a penny per ounce on SSBs generated an estimated $13 billion in 2013. The report estimates that in the 3 states with the highest obesity rates, Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia, the tax would raise $136 million, $210 million, and $84 million in revenue, respectively.

The city council of Berkeley, California, took a step in this direction in its recent midterm elections, including the City of Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax, Measure D, on the election ballot on November 4. While it won the vote of 75% of citizens,2 a similar measure in San Francisco—the City of San Francisco Sugary Drink Tax, Proposition E—won a simple majority, but not the two-thirds needed for adoption.3 What’s next? Some public health advocacy experts believe that this movement is a step in the direction toward a national tax on SSBs, while others think that warning labels are the next thing coming.

EBDM

Meanwhile, efforts are ongoing to put this discussion on a national stage. In July of this year, US Rep Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax (SWEET), which would charge an excise tax of 1% per teaspoon of caloric sweeteners and thus add 9 cents to the cost of a 12-ounce can of soda,4 directly impacting the manufacturing cost. References

1. Sugar-sweetened beverage tax: an updated policy brief. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity website. http://bit.ly/QQvqZy. Published October 2012. Accessed November 20, 2014.

2. City of Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax question, Measure D (November 2014). Ballotpedia website. http://bit.ly/1zH7o3Q. Accessed November 20, 2014.

3. City of San Francisco Sugary Drink Tax, Proposition E (November 2014). Ballotpedia website. http://bit.ly/1FXHq0o. Accessed November 20, 2014.

4. Zuraw, L. DeLauro introduces bill to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. Food Safety News website. http://bit.ly/1zH7mZX. Published July 31, 2014. Accessed November 20, 2014.