Will taxing the quantity of calories in sugary drinks help reduce obesity?

Worldwide, an estimated 1.9 billion adults are overweight, and of these 600 million are obese. Obesity increases the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes; in the US alone, obesity-related healthcare costs around $200 billion a year. Due to their high sugar content and low nutritional value, there is growing concern that sugary drinks are a significant contributor to obesity. Consumption has increased drastically in recent decades, leading policy makers to look for ways of reducing the amount of sugary drinks in our diets.

In January 2014 Mexico became the first country to do a nationwide sugar-sweetened drink tax when it introduced a tax of one peso…per liter — around 10% of the price. The tax includes all drinks that have been sweetened using sugar, not just carbonated drinks. Mexico consumes more sugar-sweetened drinks than any other country: looking at Coca-Cola products alone, Mexico consumes 745 servings per person per year, compared to the worldwide average of 94.

Early results indicate that the tax is having an impact and reducing consumption of sugary drinks. However, the new study suggests that basing the tax on the dose of calories or sugar in a product, rather than applying a flat tax across the board, could make it even more effective…

In his new study, Dr. Evan Blecher at the American Cancer Society drew comparisons between taxing tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks, using South Africa as a case study. While a flat tax is a good approach to tobacco, it may not be the best way to encourage different habits when it comes to the consumption of alcohol and sugary drinks..

So far, the results of tobacco tax suggest that taxing by the number of cigarettes is the best approach. Translated to alcohol and sugary drinks, this would mean taxing by volume. However, taxing the dose of a particular ingredient — the alcohol in alcoholic beverages or the sugar or calories in sugar-sweetened drinks — could be a more effective way to reduce consumption. This may also incentivize drinks companies to offer healthier alternatives.

This dose approach to taxation has been effective at reducing the consumption of alcohol in South Africa, reducing the amount of alcohol consumed in beer by 12% since 1998. As well as being a possible approach for sugar-sweetened drinks, it could also be effective at controlling unhealthy food consumption, and even fuel consumption.

Not a bad idea. I’d be willing to support almost anything that works for reducing smoking and alcohol consumption. If the same approach works on sugar consumption – uniformly understood as contributing nothing but illness to modern society – it would be another positive for public health.

One thought on “Will taxing the quantity of calories in sugary drinks help reduce obesity?

  1. Update says:

    In Mexico, a 10% tax on sugar sweetened drinks has been associated with an overall 12% reduction in sales and a 4% increase in purchases of untaxed beverages one year after implementation, finds a study published this week by The BMJ (British Medical Journal). http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-01/b-sdt010416.php Mexico is the biggest consumer of soft drinks in the world, with an average per capita consumption of 163 liters (43 gallons) per year,

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