Tax on sugar-sweetened beverages may reduce consumption by around 50%

March 1, 2019

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax enacted in Berkeley, Calif. in 2015 resulted in a 52% decrease in SSB consumption. In March 2015, the city of Berkeley implemented Measure D, the first tax on SSB in the United States. Distributors of beverages with added caloric sweeteners, such as sodas and sweetened teas, are taxed one cent per fluid ounce as an excise tax.

Researchers have been collecting data on the effects of the soda tax on low-income communities since 2014, just before the tax was enacted. Data for the current study came from repeated annual cross-sectional beverage frequency questionnaires from 2014 to 2017 in demographically diverse Berkeley (n = 1,513) and comparison (San Francisco and Oakland; n = 3,712) neighborhoods. Pretax consumption (2014) was compared with a weighted average of three years of post-tax consumption. The survey was conducted in a total of six neighborhoods—two each in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland—all within the lowest median household income percentiles.

The researchers found that residents surveyed in Berkeley reported drinking 52% fewer servings of sugary beverages than they did before the tax was enacted. In addition, water consumption jumped 29% during those three years. The decrease was seen overall for sugary drinks, and specifically for soft drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened teas and coffees. This drop more than doubles the 21% decline found in 2015.

Residents of neighboring Oakland and San Francisco drank about the same number of sugary beverages in 2017 as they did in 2014, suggesting that these changes were unique to Berkeley and not signs of a regional trend in drinking habits unrelated to the tax. Oakland and San Francisco have since enacted their own soda taxes, which went into effect in mid-2017 and 2018, respectively.

The researchers concluded that “these persistent, longer-term reductions in SSB consumption suggest that SSB taxes are an effective policy option for jurisdictions focused on improving public health.”