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Soda tax may not curb obesity stats: Economists

4 commentsBy Stephen Daniells , 27-Sep-2010

The effects of imposing taxes on soft drinks to curb growing waistlines in the nation’s youth may be weaker than expected as kids turn to other sources of calories, says a new study.

Led by David Frisvold from the Department of Economics at Emory University, researchers report that, while a soda tax would lead to a “moderate reduction in soft drink consumption by children and adolescents”, such a reduction would be off-set by “increases in consumption of other high calorie drinks”.

Dr Frisvold and his co-workers base their conclusions on state soft drink sales and excise tax information between 1989 and 2006 correlated with data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They publish their findings in the Journal of Public Economics.

The study adds to the ongoing debate about the merits of imposing higher taxes on soft drinks. Advocates point to the potential to reduce calorie intakes and therefore help reduce exploding obesity rates. On the other hand, critics such as the American Beverage Association has vociferously opposed soda taxes, calling them ‘simplistic and ineffective’ for dealing with public health challenges.

Same data, different conclusions

The new study appears at odds with a recent study by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), which also used NHANES data. The USDA study, available here , found that a 20 percent soda tax could reduce overweight prevalence to 62.4 percent (from 66.9 percent currently) and prevalence of obesity to 30.4 percent over a year (from 33.4 percent).

The USDA study found that increasing the price of sugary sodas by 20 percent could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, equivalent to 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year for adults, and an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children.

New perspective

Dr Frisvold and his co-workers came to a different conclusion, however, noting that “the evidence to date is that soft drink taxes are ineffective as an ‘obesity tax’”.

By merging data from NHANES with information on state soft drink sales and excise tax they calculated that “soft drink taxation, as currently practiced in the United States, leads to a moderate reduction in soft drink consumption by children and adolescents. However, we show that this reduction in soda consumption is completely offset by increases in consumption of other high calorie drinks.”

Door still wide open

The researchers said that, while there is evidence against the effectiveness of soda taxes, their findings suggest at least two avenues of further inquiry.

“First, although there is no evidence that soft drink taxes improve weight outcomes in children and adolescents, the fact that children and adolescents substitute more nutritious whole milk for soft drinks when taxed suggests that there may be broader health benefits that are not yet understood.

“Second, most historical tax rates are considerably lower than those that have been recently proposed, so that extrapolating our results to much larger increases in tax rates may not be appropriate. It is possible that there is a tax rate threshold at which consumers’ reactions are greatly magnified, so it is unclear whether consumer substitution patterns would be sufficiently different with large tax changes to reduce total caloric intake.

“Findings from these areas of inquiry could suggest that there are pathways by which it is possible that soft drink taxes could indirectly improve child and adolescent health,” they added.

Dr Frisvold collaborated with Jason Fletcher from the School of Public Health at Yale University, and Nathan Tefft from the Department of Economics, Bates College.

Source: Journal of Public Economics
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2010.09.005
“The effects of soft drink taxes on child and adolescent consumption and weight outcomes”
Authors: Jason M. Fletcher, David E. Frisvold, Nathan Tefft

4 comments (Comments are now closed)

All upper case was done on purpose!!

Yep I was mad as heck so I used caps so what !!

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Posted by THE "DOC-TORR"said that again!!
01 October 2010 | 17h10

FRUCTOSE IS CORN SYRUP "NOT" SUGAR!!!!

FRUCTOSE IS A MAN MADE CHEMICAL AND ITS IN EVERYTHING THATS THE PROBLEM TAKE THIS CRAP OUT OF THE SODA PUT THE SUGAR BACK IN ITS ALL OF THESE CHEMICALS THAT THE F.D.A. AND OTHER FEDERAL &STATE AGENCIES HAVE ALLOWED THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE CORPORATIONS TO ADD TO THE SODA IN PLACE OF NATURAL SUGAR HERE IN THE STATES THATS THE PROBLEM BUY A COUPLE OF COKES FROM MEXICO MADE WITH SUGAR BIG DIFFERENCE AND IF I WAS SURE THAT THE WATER THAT IT IS MADE WITH WAS CLEAN.... I WOULD ONLY BE DRINKING THAT SODA AND NOW THEY WANT TO TAX IT ..THIS IS WHERE IT WILL HAVE TO STOP !!!

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Posted by THE "DOC-TORR"said that
01 October 2010 | 15h38

Economist - Right Answer, Wrong Reason

The authors, Jason M. Fletcher, David E. Frisvold, Nathan Tefft, have fallen into the same trap as the USDA and many others. They appear to have assumed that people eat too many calories thus become overweight. Then they need an entire paper to reach the conclusion that the tax will not change the calorie consumption thus people with continue to eat too many calories and grow fat.

If you make the opposite assumption - People eat as many calories as they do because they are overweight and need more calories to be able to function normally, then it follows naturally that no manner of artificial pricing will change calorie consumption. These people need this many calories just like a fish needs water. They can not live without it so raising the price on any single item will just shift the consumption elsewhere.

There is research that indicates this condition is plausible and there has never been any research that indicated that people gain weight because they eat too much. The only indication is a correlation between eating too much and over weight and correlation does not indicate causation.

If you assume that overweight people need to eat a lot, then you can reach logical conclusions much easier and perhaps find a solution that does not involve giving more money to some government.

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Posted by Jerry Segers
30 September 2010 | 23h56

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