Sugar Taxes are Helping to Reduce the Consumption of Sweetened Beverages

In recent years, city-wide soda taxes have been a hotly debated battleground. Public health advocates are frequently in support with the hope of minimizing sugar consumption, while the beverage industry has fought hard to prevent the damage to their bottom line. Others have also argued that the taxes are ineffective and unfair. 

However, a recent analysis suggests that they’re working quite well in reducing the consumption of sugary beverages. In the study, researchers used a large set of grocery purchase data from Nielsen (representing 45% of all food store sales in the city for 2017, 2018, and 2019) to measure food and drink sales before and after the city of Seattle implemented a sugary drinks tax in January of 2018. They compared data with Portland (which does not tax these products). The researchers then coded each type of beverage by its exact sugar content, which allowed them to account for varying sugar levels in different beverages. They found that the total amount of sugar sold via taxed drinks decreased by 23% in Seattle compared to sales of identical products in Portland. 

Such positive results are encouraging for public health advocates, especially in light of the damaging effects of sugar on physical health, mental health, and sleep. Since February is American Heart Health Month, let’s take a closer look at the impacts of sugar on the heart in particular. Sugar consumption raises triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure, all of which contribute to heart disease. In addition, sugar can cause inflammation throughout the body. A diet high in sugar can lead to chronic inflammation, which causes further stress to the heart and blood vessels. 

All in all, it’s safe to say that everyone, especially children with growing minds and bodies, can stand to benefit by cutting back on sugar. Still, it’s uncertain if other cities will adopt soda taxes that will help everyone cut back. Food and drink lobby groups are reacting forcefully by lobbying for state-level policy to prevent local jurisdictions from enacting their own public health ordinances. Known as “preemption,” the tobacco industry first used this political strategy in the 1970s. This is what happened in California after Berkeley’s first-in-nation soda tax. According to Politico, “California’s preemption law went into effect in 2018—ensuring that, until 2030, the only cities in the state with extra beverage taxes are the handful, like Berkeley, that have already adopted them.” Despite their best efforts, the beverage industry might be too late. Soda consumption has been decreasing in recent years across the United States as awareness of the health impacts grows. 

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