Guest Post: A Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: What It Could Accomplish

Back • August 28, 2012 • Uncategorized

Roberta FriedmanToday, we feature a guest blog post by Roberta R. Friedman, ScM, Director of Public Policy at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are a staple of today’s American diet. They are inexpensive, in abundant supply, high in calories, deliver little or no nutrition, and appeal to our taste for sugar. Most importantly, more than for any category of foods, rigorous scientific studies have shown that consumption of SSBs is associated with poor diet, increased rates of obesity, and risk for diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. These links are strong for children.

Public health authorities around the country are relying on education campaigns to convince people to reduce consumption of SSBs. But their potential for success is overpowered by the hundreds of millions of dollars the beverage industry spends every year ($948 million in 2010) to market SSBs to children and adults. The risk of serious health consequences calls for a more far-reaching strategy to improve the Nation’s nutrition, raise revenue for health programs, and recover the medical and insurance costs of treating diet-related diseases. 

Many state legislatures are considering excise taxes on SSBs to accomplish these goals. Economists estimate that a penny-per-ounce excise tax would raise considerable funds which could be earmarked for preventive health programs, especially for low-income and minority children; raise the relative price of the drinks and thereby discourage consumption; and possibly increase demand for more healthful alternatives. Here in Connecticut, such a tax could raise over $144 million in 2013. Estimates for other states can be calculated on the Rudd Center’s Revenue Calculator.