Research Debate: Can a Soda Tax Make America Skinny?

Some experts say yes and others say no way. The real deal about these controversial taxes.

| September 23rd, 2011
Soda Tax Debate

Do you love drinking an afternoon soda, or put sugar in your morning coffee? Policy-makers want you to stop.

New York City is currently running an advertising campaign featuring a man drinking a glass of fat, and a soda bottle overflowing with liquid fat. It’s part of an aggressive effort—happening across the country—to reduce people’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

Americans guzzle an average of 50 gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages—including sodas, fruit juices with added sugar, sports and energy drinks, flavored waters and sweetened milk, tea or coffee—per person every year.

That’s not doing our figures any favors.

Researchers blame SSBs, at least in part, for the ballooning obesity crisis, as well as higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Not to mention that soft drink lovers are less likely to get the calcium and other nutrients they need to keep their bodies healthy.  

MORE: Expert Tips For a Sugar-Free Diet

How are policy makers hoping to lower consumption? By imposing a soda tax—a tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages, and possibly diet drinks too. Here, we look to the research to figure out if a soda tax stands a chance.


In 1994, Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., Director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, first proposed taxing sugary drinks. Since then, more than 30 states have imposed small taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, and some states—like Maine and New York—have been fighting to increase them.

Even a very small soda tax could raise big bucks for your city. In New York City, a five-cent tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages would generate almost 30 million dollars in 2011 alone—an amount that could help offset obesity-related healthcare costs. (Currently, soda tax funds are not used for this purpose.)

MORE: Calculate How Much Your City Could Earn From Soda Taxes

But the real question remains: Could a soda tax make a dent in the rising obesity rate?

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