by Stephanie Linakis, MS
Sugar-sweetened beverages, or SSBs, are at the center of much debate in obesity research these days. More and more studies support an association between SSB consumption and heightened caloric intake, weight gain, obesity and a number of other poor health outcomes among people of all ages. And it’s not just soda. Other carbonated soft drinks, juice, sport and energy drinks, sweetened milk, tea, and coffee, and other beverages where any type of sugar has been added stand colorfully side by side in the suspect lineup.
Taxing SSBs has been perhaps the most common approach to curbing SSB consumption. As of January 1, 34 states and D.C. are applying sales taxes to regular, sugar-sweetened sodas through food stores. However, a report from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity that the sales taxes are not significant or obvious enough to consumers to reduce consumption.
In response, policymakers are increasingly considering larger excise taxes, where consumers see the increased price at the point of purchase. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the federal Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act of 2014 (SWEET Act), which would amend the I.R.S. code to impose a one-cent excise tax on manufacturers for every teaspoon of added sugar in beverages. The tax would raise approximately $10m in revenue that would be directed towards programs to reduce health conditions related to sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
If Representative DeLauro’s bill succeeds, while it’s a long shot, the U.S. would join Mexico in having a national SSB tax. Mexico’s policy went into effect this year, and taxes soda at the rate of one peso (roughly US$.08) per liter. Consumption is already down.