March 21, 2019
Soda with ice cubes and straws.
Health News

Berkeley Soda Tax: It's a Success!

by Diane Domina  

Soda taxes have been controversial, but it seems they’re paying off, and not just financially: New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that the consumption of sugary drinks has fallen 52 percent in areas of Berkeley with a high proportion of low-income residents—a population shown to drink a lot of sweetened beverages—since 2014, when the city’s “penny per ounce” tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was enacted.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, is the first to examine the longer-term impact of soda taxes in the United States.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with a higher risk of tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The 52 percent decline seen through 2017 more than doubles the 21 percent drop that occurred during the first year of the soda tax in Berkeley—an indicator that the benefit of the tax continues to accrue over time. The researchers also found that city residents are drinking 29 percent more water than they did before the tax, proving soda taxes are an effective tool for encouraging healthier habits.

The debate about soda taxes, which are actually levied against distributors but usually passed on to consumers, continues. Philadelphia and Seattle also have implemented taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, but California and Washington passed bills in 2018 prohibiting cities from enacting future soda taxes. In Berkeley, soda tax revenue supports nutrition education, school gardening programs, and community organizations that encourage healthy lifestyles.

Researchers at UC Berkeley have been monitoring beverage consumption in low-income neighborhoods since 2014 by polling about 2,500 people a year at intersections in racially diverse areas with a high volume of foot traffic. The steep decline they observed applied across all sugary drinks, including soda, sports drinks, sweetened teas, and specialty coffee drinks. The same research team has also noted declines in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Oakland and San Francisco after those cities enacted their own soda taxes in mid-2017 and 2018, respectively.

A version of this article first appeared on HealthCentral.

Also see our earlier Q&A with one of the study authors, Kristine Madsen, MD, on Why Soda Taxes Work.