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New study finds soda tax has very little impact on soda consumption – Investment Watch

by Dr. Eowyn

Soda tax is another baseless, utopian, “Nanny-State” scheme of the Left.

Like other Democrat-controlled cities, in the name of public health, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, implemented an excise tax ($ 0.015/ounce) on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages in January 2017.

A team of five researchers at the Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, Philadelphia, undertook a study on whether the soda tax led to changes in consumption a year after. They found, alas, that “there was no major overall impact of the tax on general population-level consumption of sugar-sweetened or diet beverages, or bottled water.”

The researchers Yichen Zhong, Amy H. Auchincloss, Brian K. Lee, Ryan M. McKenna, and Brent A. Langellier published their findings in “Sugar-Sweetened and Diet Beverage Consumption in Philadelphia One Year after the Beverage Tax,” in the journal Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 202017(4), 1336.

Sample: The study conducted a random-digit-dialing landline and cell phone survey between December 2016 and February 2017 of residents aged 18–64 who lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (“Philly group”) and nearby comparison cities (Trenton, New Jersey; Camden, New Jersey; and Wilmington, Delaware, “non-Philly group”) A total of 863 participants (N = 479 in the Philly group and N = 384 in the non-Philly group) responded to the follow-up survey (33% retention). Participants were paid $20 at follow-up but were not paid at baseline.

Measures: The survey collected age, sex, race, education, income, height, weight, health status, smoking, and alcohol use. Self-reported bottled water and consumption of sugar-sweetened and diet beverages (SSDB), including regular soda, regular fruit beverage, regular energy beverage, diet soda, diet fruit beverage, and diet energy beverage, were measured.


  • “No significant changes” were found in SSDB consumption over time between the Philly and non-Philly groups.
  • Although a slightly higher proportion of Philly participants decreased their monthly SSB consumption and a slightly lower proportion increased their monthly SSB consumption, the majority of the participants (around 80% in both groups) did not change daily consumption of SSBs. After covariates adjustment, there were no differences between Philly and non-Philly in within-person change in consumption regardless of the type of beverage or operationalization (daily, continuous ounces, continuous frequency of consumption).

Although the researchers admitted that the results are based on a relatively small sample, and that the sample was slightly older and had higher median income, nevertheless the sample was roughly comparable to the general Philadelphia population on other census characteristics. Furthermore, the prevalence of SSB consumption in the study’s sample (e.g., 24% daily SSB consumption and 11% daily soda consumption) roughly aligned with the prevalence of SSBs reported in other population-based samples within Philadelphia.


Limitations notwithstanding, this study is among the first to suggest that the impact of the tax on consumption may have been more modest than anticipated. Reasons for a modest impact may be the continued low price of SSB relative to healthier beverages (such as milk and 100% vegetable juice), high availability, aggressive marketing [9,10,11,42], as well as tax avoidance (purchasing SSB from retailers within Philadelphia who chose to not raise the price of SSB or purchasing from retailers outside of Philadelphia). Taken in context with other studies, it is important to conduct further research to understand the full effects of the tax on consumption, including research in larger population-based samples across multiple cities, as well as, among high-risk sub-populations. The Philadelphia beverage tax proposal was introduced with the explicit goal of generating revenue by taxing a luxury/non-essential item that could be used to finance universal pre-kindergarten programs and improvements to parks and recreation facilities [15]. Future studies could also examine whether health benefits are detectable from these health-promoting investments.

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