A penny-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks would ‘substantially reduce obesity, diabetes and heart disease amongst US adults’, according to a new study by academics at Columbia University.
Writing in the January issue of Health Affairs, Y.Claire Wang and her colleagues estimated that – over a 10-year period from 2010-2020 – such a tax could cut cases of diabetes by 2.6%, prevent as many as 95,000 coronary heart events, 8,000 strokes and 26,000 premature deaths.
“Sugar-sweetened beverages are cheap to buy, but they cost the U.S. plenty: about $174 billion per year on diabetes treatment costs and $147bn on other obesity-related health problems.” That’s according to a Colombia University release announcing the study.
The team said these health benefits would shave $17bn (€13.3bn) off US healthcare costs for adults aged over 25, and generate an addition $13bn in tax revenues.
Hidden health costs?
Study co-author, Lee Goldman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University’s Medical Center, said: "Sugary soft drinks really are liquid candy, and their low purchase price hides the true costs of health problems associated with them,"
He added: "Our model estimates that a penny-per-ounce tax would substantially reduce obesity, diabetes and heart disease among adults in the United States."
But the American Beverage Association (ABA) immediately hit back: "Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages will not reduce obesity, nor will it have a truly meaningful impact on obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes or coronary disease.
"This paper is nothing more than another attempt by researchers and their supporters who have long advocated discriminatory taxes on beverages to promote a beverage tax, which will have no impact on public health. Consumers do not support these taxes and recognize them for what they truly are - a money grab to raise revenue, as noted by the authors themselves," it added.
Largest dietary source of added sugar
US citizens had consumed up to 13bn gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages over the last 10 years, the Columbia authors wrote, making such drinks the largest source of added sugar and excess calories in the nation’s diet.
Current state-level soda taxes were too low to impact consumption, the authors suggested, when presenting the rationale for a higher, uniform tax.
They also dealt with industry objections that a soda tax would hit low-income households – more likely to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages than higher-income households – disproportionately.
Evidence was mixed as to whether lower-income consumers were more price sensitive, Wang et al. said, while it was clear that this group (along with racial and ethnic minorities) suffered more from obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes and stood to benefit most from a steeper tax.
Y.Claire Wang, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public said. "While there is some uncertainty as to what drinks people would choose instead of taxed beverages, our conclusion that a penny-per-ounce tax would reduce consumption by 15% is actually a conservative estimate."
‘More nutritious’ caloric beverages
For the current study, the academics used data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003 and used a questionnaire to gauge food choice and meal frequency
They examined two ways by which a decrease in sugary beverage consumption could impact health: overall weight reduction and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, both of which reduce cardiovascular disease risk over time.
Wang et al. found that a combination of water, diet drinks, and “more nutritious caloric beverages” could viably replace sugar-sweetened beverages, resulting in an estimated saving of up to 60 calories for every 100 calories of sugar-sweetened drink not consumed.
"With the estimated number of 860,000 fewer obese adults aged 25-64, and given the greater reductions in consumption among younger people, the longer-term health benefits would be far greater than the impacts during the first 10 years," Wang said.
Title: ‘A Penny-Per Ounce Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Would Cut Health and Cost Burdens of Diabetes’.
Authors: Y.Claire Wang, P.Coxson, Y-M Shen, L.Goldman, K. Bibbins-Domingo
Source: Health Affairs, January 2012, doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0410