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Most Americans oppose soda tax, survey suggests

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 13-Feb-2012

Related topics: Carbohydrates and fibers (sugar, starches), Sweeteners (intense, bulk, polyols), Regulation, Food prices, Food finance and prices, The obesity problem

Most Americans do not support taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, according to the results of a new survey published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

The study polled 592 adults from across the United States about their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, demographics, and their anticipated reaction to a 20% added tax on sugary soft drinks. It found that 64% of respondents said they would oppose such a tax.

The strongest opposition was from the obese, those with the lowest income, and the least education, while support was strongest among those aged 18 to 24, respondents who were normal weight or underweight, those with the highest income, and the most education.

The concept of taxing sugary beverages has been proposed on a state level throughout the United States as a means of plugging state budget deficits, as well as a possible way to fight obesity, and 33 states already impose a sales tax on soda. However, the idea has come up against opposition from diverse groups, for reasons including a disproportionate effect on lower income households, and questions about whether any one food or beverage should be singled out for taxation.

However, the survey found that 49% of those aged 18 to 24 expressed support for a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks, and whites were more likely to support such a tax than blacks, with 39% versus 26% in favor, respectively.

The researchers, from the Department of Health Behavior at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, found that 69% of respondents had consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage in the past week, and those who drank sugar-sweetened beverages averaged one a day.

Over one third of respondents said they would cut back on their consumption if a 20% tax was added, although the researchers did not provide details about the consumption habits of these respondents.

“Our findings suggest that an added tax on these beverages could influence some to cut down on their consumption, reducing their risk of obesity and related illnesses,” they wrote.

The American Beverage Association said in a statement that the survey’s findings were “no surprise” and that its view on soda taxes was well-known.

“We’ve shared our position on them – they’re discriminatory; regressive; won’t solve the complex issue of obesity that some in the public health community allege they will; and quite simply, are nothing more than a money grab,” it said.

There has been conflicting evidence on the potential effect of a soda tax on obesity, although a USDA study, drawing on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, found that increasing the price of sugary sodas by 20% 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.