Should we tax soft drinks?

August 17, 2012

Jack Winkler's commentary on a report by Ng et al., challenges the proposal of a 10% tax on 'sugar-sweetened beverages' (SSB). Both articles appear in the current issue of British Journal of Nutrition and raise important questions about soft drink taxation and consumption.

In their report, 'Patterns and trends of among children and in Great Britain, 1986-2009', the authors Ng, Ni Mhurchu, Jebb and Popkin conclude that a 10 % increase in the price of SSB could potentially result in a decrease of 7·5 ml/capita per d. Their analysis implies that taxation or other methods of shifting relative costs of these beverages could be a way to improve beverage choices in Great Britain.

While applauding the 'heroic analysis' of the UK food purchase and consumption data Winkler observes in his commentary that the 10% tax proposed would lead only to a 4.6% reduction in SSB purchases. In real terms this equates to a less than gram of sugar (or one sip from a 2 litre bottle).

Moreover the nature of consumer behaviour, where consumers regularly pay 950% extra for a well-known brand over a value brand, a 10% tax will have little effect. Crucially, the market is complex and the nature of supermarket deals plus variations in price between locations and outlets renders the 10% increase meaningless. Winkler also suggests that popular resistance amongst manufacturers and consumers alike mean that no politicians are likely to adopt the 10% tax idea anyway.

Importantly the Ng report does not clarify an opinion on the related issues of fruit juices and sweeteners. The leading brand of Unsweetened apple juice contains more sugar than the leading cola brand, and nothing is suggested about this problem. Winkler remarks "Anyone serious in sugar evading cannot avoid this issue".

Winkler suggests that by not discussing 'Sweeteners' and the increase in consumption of sugarfree , nutritionists are neglecting an important aspect of potential nutritional policy. Manufacturers effectively charge a premium for sugarfree products even though they cost less than SSB's to produce. A tax exemption on sweeteners is one instrument to invert this trend, and is a viable consideration when looking at ways to reduce sugar consumption.

Winkler concludes that not only is a on SSBs not likely to be adopted but even it was it would be ineffective but the Ng report does open up a lot of questions for Nutrition Policy makers:

'First, what are we seeking to do, change people or change foods? Second, the issue contrasts principled and pragmatic strategies. Should we, as a matter of principle, seek to switch people to healthy diets directly and quickly?. Finally, price instruments can punish the bad, reward the good, or both.' In short: 'Make the healthy choice the cheaper choice'

Explore further: Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could yield sweet results

More information: Why soft drink taxes will not work,  J.T. Winkler. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 108 / Issue 03

Patterns and trends of beverage consumption among children and adults in Great Britain, 1986-2009 Shu Wen Ng, et al. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 108 / Issue 03

Related Stories

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could yield sweet results

May 13, 2011
( -- Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages a penny-per-ounce could reduce consumption and generate significant revenue, finds a study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and the Bridging ...

Banning sugar-sweetened beverages in schools does not reduce consumption: study

November 7, 2011
State policies banning all sugar-sweetened beverages in schools are associated with reduced in-school access and purchase of these beverages, however these policies are not associated with a reduction in overall consumption ...

Can soda tax curb obesity?

June 28, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- To many, a tax on soda is a no-brainer in advancing the nation’s war on obesity. Advocates point to a number of studies in recent years that conclude that sugary drinks have a lot to do with why Americans ...

Sugar-sweetened drinks are not replacing milk in kid's diets

July 18, 2012
National data indicate that milk consumption has declined among children while consumption of sweetened beverages of low nutritional quality has more than doubled. Although this suggests that sugar-sweetened beverages may ...

Recommended for you

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
If sweetened drinks are so bad for society, why not instead of adding a tax to sweetened drinks, why not just outlaw them? I think anyone selling these evil drinks should be charged with a crime and face a 1-2 year jail time. If they sell them to minors, the jail time should be doubled. New York hasn't gone far enough.

Parents who give these drinks to innocent children should have their children taken away for child abuse and they themselves should be jailed.

The only danger of using satire with Progressives is that they're stupid and ignorant enough to think the idea as good and try to implement it.
Vendicar Dickarian
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
"Should we tax soft drinks?"

NO. Now, can we get back to work?
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
should we tax softdrinks?

well, if you do, then your admitting this is a totalitarian state and that taxes are not to pay limited bills of the federal and state agencies, but are to be used to socially engineer outcomes in the population whether they like it or not, and so, control them by some means, or many means.

funny, but all these doctors thinking up interventions are exactly the same as joseph mengele who wanted to intervene in childrens lives to make them fit the society that the liberals of germany 1933-1945 were creating for the future.

just cause we dont speak german doesnt mean it isnt the same thing, and that if you dont comply they will kill you...

after all. you say, i dont want to pay my taxes.
then what? if you keep refusing as they escalate, they will end up killing you or taking away your whole life except for the small part you experience.

hows about solutions that dont assist, help develop, or require a totalitarian state, threat of death, etc
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
If you are fool enough to drink sodas, you will die early, which is what you deserve.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2012
Figure out the cost (to society) of soft drink abuse and set the tax accordingly. Don't get too wrapped up in peripheral issues like education or punishment. Don't try to tell manufacturers what to do. Let economics do that.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.