Implementing a sales tax may help get Americans to stop drinking sugary drinks, if a new study about Philadelphia soda consumption is any indication.
In 2017, Philadelphia became the second US city to put a tax on sugary drinks and soda. In the wake of the tax, sales on those beverages dropped by a whopping 51% in the first year, according to a study published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA.
The study compared beverage costs and sales in Philadelphia – following implementation of the 1.5 cents per ounce tax – with Baltimore, which has a similar demographic but doesn’t have the same sales tax. With the tax, beverages in Philadelphia jumped from 5.43 cents per ounce in 2016 to 6.24 cents in 2017. In Baltimore, beverages went up from 5.33 cents per ounce to just 5.50 cents.
While researchers found that sales of sugary beverages fell in Philadelphia after the tax, beverage sales in nearby towns and counties without the tax went up. That suggests people may have been traveling to get their soda at a reduced price. Adjusting for this shift, researchers found sales dropped 38% overall.
Half the population consumes sugary drinks on a given day, according to the CDC. High sugar intake is linked to Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and high cholesterol in children and teens, Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and registered dietitian in Carlsbad, California said. But they aren’t the only ones affected by high sugar intake. About 12% of adults live with diabetes in the United States. Frequent consumption of sugary drinks has also been linked to a higher risk of premature death.
In March, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association called for policies limiting access to sugar-sweetened beverages among children and teens, including a soda tax.
“We have tried, and failed, to curb sugary drink intake through education and individual choices alone,” Muth, who was lead author of the policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics, said at the time. “Just like policy changes were necessary and effective in reducing consumption of tobacco and alcohol, we need policy changes that will help reduce sugary drink consumption in children and adolescents.”
Communities in California and Mexico where a soda tax has already been implemented have had similar outcomes. Sugary drink consumption went down more than 50% three years after Berkeley, California, passed a soda tax, according to a study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Public Health.
Unlike other communities with the tax, Philadelphia did not see an increase in sales of untaxed beverages such as bottled water. Researchers also found that people did not opt to swap their usual soda for liquid and powdered drink concentrates.
This study did not look into changes in beverage consumption or health outcomes associated with the tax.