In the Journals

Taxing drinks by sugar content may have more health, economic benefits

Taxing sugar-sweetened drinks based on sugar content would provide more health and economic benefits than a tax based on drink volume, according to research published in Science.

Recently, researchers found that consuming more soft drinks, both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened, increases the risk for all-cause mortality.

“Despite their different sugar content and resulting different harms, all sugar-sweetened beverages are taxed at the same rate per liter under a volumetric tax,” Anna H. Grummon, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “This tax structure gives consumers no incentive to substitute from high-sugar to low-sugar sugar-sweetened beverages, even though the latter are less harmful.”

Currently, sugary drinks are taxed by volume in seven U.S. cities. These taxes have reduced overall consumption of sugary drinks but have not encouraged consumers to switch to options with less sugar, according to the authors.

a soda being poured in a glass 
Taxing sugar-sweetened drinks based on sugar content would provide more health and economic benefits than a tax based on drink volume, according to research published in Science.
Source: Shutterstock

Grummon and colleagues used standard economic and health models to estimate the benefits a sugar-sweetened beverage tax based on sugar content would have in the United States.

In the models, a volume-based tax of $0.34 per liter was compared with a tax of $0.37 per gram of sugar. The taxes in the models were considered economically equivalent, as they resulted in similar tax rates for a product with average sugar content.

Compared with no tax, volume-based tax would result in U.S. adults consuming 2.9 fewer ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages, or approximately 8 fewer grams of sugar, each day. The researchers said that with this reduction, the average U.S. adult would lose 2.3 pounds and cut the obesity rate by 2%, equating to 21 million fewer adults with obesity. According to the models, the tax would reduce the number of new type 2 diabetes cases each year by 2.3% (36,000 cases).

However, compared with a volume-based tax, a sugar tax led to 2.3 fewer grams of sugar consumed each day. This decrease in sugar consumption would result in adults losing an additional 0.7 pounds and reduce the obesity rate by an additional 0.6% (630,000 adults) when applied across the U.S. New type 2 diabetes cases would be reduced by 0.7% (11,000 people) each year, according to the researchers.

The estimated national economic gains from reduced health care costs and tax revenue was $1.4 billion per year for a volume-based tax, with an additional $400 million per year for a sugar tax.

The findings suggest that a sugar tax would result in 30% more health and economic benefits than a volume-based tax.

“Once there is agreement to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, it seems natural to tax the harmful sugar instead of the liquid that comes with the sugar,” Grummon and colleagues wrote. “Our calculations suggest that this idea offers valuable low-hanging fruit for improving public health.”– by Erin Michael

Disclosures: Grummon received general and training support from the NIH. Please see study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

Taxing sugar-sweetened drinks based on sugar content would provide more health and economic benefits than a tax based on drink volume, according to research published in Science.

Recently, researchers found that consuming more soft drinks, both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened, increases the risk for all-cause mortality.

“Despite their different sugar content and resulting different harms, all sugar-sweetened beverages are taxed at the same rate per liter under a volumetric tax,” Anna H. Grummon, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “This tax structure gives consumers no incentive to substitute from high-sugar to low-sugar sugar-sweetened beverages, even though the latter are less harmful.”

Currently, sugary drinks are taxed by volume in seven U.S. cities. These taxes have reduced overall consumption of sugary drinks but have not encouraged consumers to switch to options with less sugar, according to the authors.

a soda being poured in a glass 
Taxing sugar-sweetened drinks based on sugar content would provide more health and economic benefits than a tax based on drink volume, according to research published in Science.
Source: Shutterstock

Grummon and colleagues used standard economic and health models to estimate the benefits a sugar-sweetened beverage tax based on sugar content would have in the United States.

In the models, a volume-based tax of $0.34 per liter was compared with a tax of $0.37 per gram of sugar. The taxes in the models were considered economically equivalent, as they resulted in similar tax rates for a product with average sugar content.

Compared with no tax, volume-based tax would result in U.S. adults consuming 2.9 fewer ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages, or approximately 8 fewer grams of sugar, each day. The researchers said that with this reduction, the average U.S. adult would lose 2.3 pounds and cut the obesity rate by 2%, equating to 21 million fewer adults with obesity. According to the models, the tax would reduce the number of new type 2 diabetes cases each year by 2.3% (36,000 cases).

However, compared with a volume-based tax, a sugar tax led to 2.3 fewer grams of sugar consumed each day. This decrease in sugar consumption would result in adults losing an additional 0.7 pounds and reduce the obesity rate by an additional 0.6% (630,000 adults) when applied across the U.S. New type 2 diabetes cases would be reduced by 0.7% (11,000 people) each year, according to the researchers.

The estimated national economic gains from reduced health care costs and tax revenue was $1.4 billion per year for a volume-based tax, with an additional $400 million per year for a sugar tax.

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The findings suggest that a sugar tax would result in 30% more health and economic benefits than a volume-based tax.

“Once there is agreement to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, it seems natural to tax the harmful sugar instead of the liquid that comes with the sugar,” Grummon and colleagues wrote. “Our calculations suggest that this idea offers valuable low-hanging fruit for improving public health.”– by Erin Michael

Disclosures: Grummon received general and training support from the NIH. Please see study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

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