Title

2016: The Year of the Soda Tax

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2017

Abstract

The year 2016 was pivotal in the history of the “soda wars”–the politically divisive conflict between soda as a joy of life or as a uniquely harmful food. This past year, the soft beverage industry lost its battle against soda taxes. At the beginning of 2016, only 121,000 Americans, residents of Berkeley, California, paid public health based taxes on sugary drinks. Throughout the year, six cities and counties followed suit, and when these new measures take effect, that number is predicted to grow to more than 8.3 million nationally. Evidence from early adopters shows great promise. Mexico’s 1-peso-per-liter tax produced a 6% average decline in purchases during its first year, reaching 12% by December. In Berkeley, California, consumption of sugary beverages in low-income neighborhoods decreased by 21%.

Soda taxes are an innovative method of reducing consumption of added sugars, which increase risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other noncommunicable diseases. Taxes aim to discourage consumption of sugary drinks by raising prices, and offer the dual benefit of generating revenue, which can be used to fund other public health and community programs. Not surprisingly, “Big Soda” has unleashed well-coordinated, heavily resourced opposition campaigns against soda taxes, including lobbying and litigation. The successes of 2016 show that local governments can overcome industry opposition and provide leadership and innovation in tackling rising rates of obesity and noncommunicable diseases. Now, faced with an administration that has offered few (if any) reasons to be optimistic about disease prevention and health promotion at the federal level, local leaders and public health advocates should consider soda taxes as a key pillar of obesity prevention.

Publication Citation

95 Milbank Q. 19 (2017)