Will A Tax on Soft Drinks Help People Lose Weight?

Taxing Soft Drinks for Weight Loss

Would a one cent per ounce excise tax on soft drinks deter you from buying sugary, non-nutritious drinks and help you lose weight? Some experts believe it will, and they talk about it in the September issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s no secret that overweight and obesity are a major health concern and weight loss is a major challenge in the United States, but nor is the fact that it is a problem that is not getting any better. Sixty-seven percent of adults age 20 years and older are overweight or obese in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among young people ages 2 to 19, between 11 and 18 percent are overweight.

The authors of a recent article estimate that the proposed soft drink tax would raise the price of a 20-ounce sugary beverage by 15 to 20 percent and result in a minimum reduction of 20 calories per day per person from sugary beverages and over time help people lose weight.

This seems like a very slow and unreliable way to encourage people to lose weight. And because the cause of overweight and obesity is multifactorial, focusing on limiting soft drink consumption should be considered just one of several actions people should take if they want to lose weight.


The monies raised from implementation of the excise tax, which is estimated to be $14.9 billion during the first year alone, could help finance health care reform, reduce people’s risk of some diseases and ailments, and fund programs to prevent obesity and help people to lose weight. Overall, the national tax would raise about 10 percent of what the United States now spends on health care costs associated with overweight and obesity; namely, $147 billion.

While the tax will raise money, will it result in any significant weight loss? People within the beverage industry do not think so. The beverage makers oppose a soft drink tax and also dispute any connection between overweight and obesity and consumption of sugary drinks. The American Beverage Association issued a statement that noted “Excise taxes on soft drinks simply do not reduce obesity rates.”

Some research tends to disagree. In a study published in Current Opinions in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, the investigators found that replacing soft drinks and other beverages that contain sugars such as fruit juices with noncaloric beverages appears to be a promising way to prevent overweight in childhood and adolescence and to encourage weight loss. And in another New England Journal of Medicine article (April 2009), the authors report data suggest that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would have a significant impact on reducing their consumption.

If a substantial national excise tax on soft drinks is passed, it remains to be seen whether it will result in any significant weight loss. That it will raise revenues is certain. Where those monies will go - whether any of them will help with people’s weight loss efforts - also is an unknown.

Brownell KD et al. New England Journal of Medicine 2009 Sept. 16 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMhpr0905723
Brownell KD, Frieden TR. New England Journal of Medicine 2009; 360:1805-08
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Libuda L, Kersting M. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2009 Aug 25