Berkeleites Buying Fewer Sugary Drinks, Thanks to Soda Tax

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Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 8:14 pm | Updated: 8:32 am, Wed Apr 19, 2017.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A new study published in PLOS Medicine by the Public Health Institute and the University of North Carolina showed that Berkeley’s sugar sweetened beverage tax is working as intended.

Changes in prices, sales, consumer spending, and beverage consumption one year after a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley, California, US: A before-and-after study is the largest-to-date evaluation of the nation’s first sugar sweetened beverage tax, covering 15.5 million supermarket checkouts. It found that the volume of sugar sweetened beverages sold in Berkeley declined significantly, by 9.6 percent, in the year following implementation. Because sales for healthier beverages also rose, there was no negative impact on overall beverage sales at studied local businesses. Overall grocery bills did not go up.

"The Berkeley tax is a home run, residents chose healthier options, it raised revenue for promoting health, and we saw no evidence of higher grocery bills for consumers or harm to local business revenue," said lead author Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute. "These findings suggest that sugary drink taxes make health and economic sense."

"Berkeley’s per capita SSB consumption is significantly lower than the country as a whole," said Shu Wen Ng, PhD, UNC research associate professor of nutrition and co-first author on the study. "This suggests we will see a much larger tax impact in other U.S. cities with similar or higher tax levels."

The tax, approved by Berkeley voters in November 2014, is a penny-per-fluid-ounce of sugary drinks, paid by beverage distributors. Revenues from the tax are placed in the general fund and an advisory committee recommends to the City how to spend the resources to improve health.

The study evaluated changes during the first 12 months of implementation from three data sources. Data analyzed included:

  1. beverage prices at a sample 26 Berkeley stores of varying types;
  2. point-of-sale scanner data on beverage prices, sales in ounces and store revenue per transaction on 15.5 million checkouts in three Berkeley and six control non-Berkeley large supermarkets in nearby cities; and
  3. a smaller before-and-after representative telephone survey of 957 adult Berkeley residents.

Similar taxes were recently passed in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany in California; Philadelphia, Pa.; Cook County, Ill.; and Boulder Colo.; as well as other countries, including the United Kingdom. They are under consideration now in Santa Fe, N.M.; Seattle, Wash.; Illinois; Massachusetts; and Washington.

The study was supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Data was collected by the Public Health Institute and its Survey Research Group, with the collaboration of local retailers and grocery chains.

SOURCE: Public Health Institute

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