The Sugar Tax—History, Healthcare, and Effectiveness
Heart disease. Diabetes. Obesity. Tooth decay.
All of these health concerns hit people around the world, every day. When it gets serious enough, it can lead to death. And part of the cause of all of these health issues could be that sugary drink you can’t seem to live without.
As research continues to learn about the impact of sugary drinks like soda, legislators are working to try and improve health. That’s why they’ve implemented the ‘sugar tax.’
This unique tax applies to the majority of prepackaged, nonalcoholic beverages that contain at least 5 grams of added sugar per 100 milliliters of drink. The drinks that are impacted are soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks. The tax ranges from 1 to 2 cents per ounce, depending on the country or state. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can increase the price of a “sugary” drink by more than 75%. That means a 12 pack of Coca-Cola could cost $2 more. That makes a big difference when you’re in line at the grocery store.
Health concerns caused by eating too much sugar
There are many health concerns that have lead to the implementation of the sugar tax around the world. Type II diabetes had 1.6 million deaths in 2015 alone, and research shows that drinking one or two sugary drinks a day increases your risk of developing diabetes by 26%.
Heart disease can be a long-term consequence of consuming too much sugar in drinks. Research shows that overall the odds of dying from heart disease rose with the percentage of sugar in a person’s diet, no matter what gender, race, or age.
Obesity is a global health concern, and the number of obese people around the world is rising rapidly. The reality is, that sugar contributes to making you gain weight. Increases in weight are often connected to unhealthy, sugary diets, and can lead to complications and death. High calorie intake is directly associated with drinking sugary drinks, and research shows that drinking one sugary beverage per day can add 15 pounds to a person’s weight in just one year.
Dental care is an additional health concern that brought about the sugar tax. Improper dental care can have a huge impact on general health, and sugary drinks are directly tied to poor dental health.
Is sugar as bad as tobacco?
Those in favor of soda taxes often talk about successful taxes on tobacco as evidence that the tax will work to lower soda consumption. While it did take some time for the UK and US to adjust to higher taxes on tobacco, the results were decreases in consumption and increase in health. Legislators and healthcare professionals are hopeful that the sugar tax will result in similar benefits.
Soda companies also take the same approach as tobacco companies, funding research that downplays the health concerns associated with their products. They do this in the hopes that by proving their product isn’t as unhealthy as people believe, the tax will be eliminated. But does this mean that the research is accurate? It can be hard to know if these companies can be trusted, because at the end of the day they are selling a product, and don’t want to have increased costs or prices for that product.
How are people responding to the sugar tax?
The sugar tax exists in over 15 countries around the world, from the Philippines to Fiji. Two of the most notable countries where sugar tax is taking effect are the United Kingdom and the United States. The specifics of the tax differ depending on the country.
How it’s being implemented in the U.S.
The United States has only 9 cities where the sugar tax is in effect. Philadelphia and Berkeley were the first two U.S. cities to pass a tax on sugary drinks. Berkeley has already seen a decline in soda consumption by more than 20% since they first passed their tax. Most states that have a sugar tax have a one-cent-per-ounce tax on soda, and have seen similar success to Berkeley in their decrease of soda consumption.
Sugary drinks today...desserts tomorrow?
While the sugar tax currently is only on sugary drinks, there are studies pushing to move the tax on to sugary food as well. It’s believed by many that similar policies taxing pastries, cakes, and candy could lead to health gains. The increased tax could cut consumption of these foods and reduce demand for similar products. While this could be seen as a win for health, there are concerns about how this impacts retailers.
What do people have to say?
A poll in 2016 found that Americans were split on their support of the sugar tax. There are arguments on both sides. Those who are pro-tax say that the health benefits are well worth the economic factors. Those against cite research stating that the tax is regressive. It puts most of the financial burden on low-income consumers, who aren’t as likely to afford the price increase. These low income residents don’t have the options to shop at other stores outside the city to avoid the tax. Small store owners also say the tax hurts their revenue, pushing them out of competition with larger stores who can afford a small dip from less consumers.
People around the UK and US have varied opinions about the tax, but the reality is that there are going to be pros and cons of the tax. The determining factor about the success of the tax will be how impactful it is on health, and the economy.
Is the sugar tax effective?
Some new sets of research indicate that there isn’t a direct connection between sugary drinks and increased BMI. If sugary drinks aren’t directly causing increased BMI and obesity, opponents of the tax argue that there is no reason to continue increasing the price of these drinks.
On the other hand, companies are working to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks, and consumers report that they are drinking less soda. Retailers report that they are stocking less sugary drinks on their shelves in areas where there is a sugar tax, mostly due to decreased consumer interest. Similar reports say that consumer and company behavior are both shaped by this sugar tax. In the UK, 50% of beverage manufacturers have reduced the amount of sugar in their drinks due to the tax. In Philadelphia, one of the U.S. cities that introduced a sugar tax, 40% of people were less likely than people in other cities to say they drank sugary drinks on a daily basis. They were also 58% more likely to report drinking bottled water. The sugar tax, whether by correlation or causation, has seemed to impact consumer and manufacturer health and behavior.
But opponents of the tax argue that asking people directly if the soda tax has decreased their sugar intake isn’t beneficial. They believe that many consumers are reporting lower soda intake than the truth, either because they don’t remember or they don’t want to admit how much soda they are drinking. Without accurate reporting, it’s hard to actually tell if the soda tax is effective.
Opponents also argue about the negative impact that these taxes have on the economy, from border crossing into other areas that don’t have the tax, to decreased visits to stores to buy drinks, which often leads to additional shopping.
Both sides of the argument have cause to say if the sugar tax is or isn’t effective. It’s likely that more time will tell the true impact of the sugar tax.
What are the sugar tax outcomes?
A huge part of the sugar tax is money. What will happen with the revenue? Some cities are putting the money toward education for children, others are funding healthy alternatives by giving kids gardening classes and healthier meals. Those who oppose the tax argue that if the sugar tax is going to continue, the revenue needs to be very specifically used to help the individuals who are going to face problems from the tax, like low-income families.
Opponents argue that resources should be redirected to help increase health in other ways. From stronger chemical regulations, to health care improvements, and subsidized healthy food, there are many options that those against the tax suggest instead.
The UK, US, and other countries will continue to evaluate the impact of the tax, but the popularity of the tax is increasing. Experts agree that the sugar tax will likely spread through the rest of the United States in the future, and even go to other countries. Only time will tell how impactful the sugar tax will be on health, and the economy.