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Minimal Weight-Loss Seen with Soda Taxes


As obesity becomes an ever growing health epidemic, sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes are increasingly being considered as a strategy for fighting the problem. New research from Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School suggests it would only be effective if the tax was large.

Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) would include both carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, including sports and fruit drinks.

Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor of health services at Duke-NUS, and colleagues looked at the impact of 20% and 40% taxes on sales of SSBs among different income groups. The study has been published in the December 13 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2006 Nielsen Homescan panel, a national sample of households that agreed to scan and transmit their store-bought food and beverage purchases weekly for a 12-month period. The data include purchase records using the Universal Product Code (UPC), total dollars paid, and units purchased.

Calorie content for each product was merged at the UPC level using data available from Gladson Interactive Services, Lisle, Illinois, or via Web searches in which matches were not available (>50% of UPCs). Using this merged data, the researchers estimated the nutritional values. The researchers then did a multivariate regression to predict the effects of the 20% and 40% price increases.

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The researchers found a 20% and 40% tax on carbonated SSBs only would reduce beverage purchases by a mean (SE) of 4.2 (1.6) and 7.8 (2.8) kcal/day per person, respectively. Extending the tax to all SSBs generates mean (SE) reductions of 7.0 and 12.4 kcal/day per person, respectively.

In other words, a 40% tax would only result in a decrease of 12.4 daily calories a day for the average person. This would result in a weight loss of only 1.3 pounds for that average person in one year.

While the taxes wouldn’t result in much weight loss per person, it would generate a significant revenue. The 40% tax on SSBs would costs a mean of $28.48 per household per year which the researches estimate would generate $2.5 billion annual revenue in the United States.


Impact of Targeted Beverage Taxes on Higher- and Lower-Income Households; Eric A. Finkelstein; Chen Zhen; James Nonnemaker; Jessica E. Todd; Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(22):2028-2034.