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Philadelphia’s ‘soda tax’ cut high school students’ weekly number of sugar-sweetened beverages

A tax on sugary drinks cut the number of servings high school students drank every week, a new study finds.

Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia looked at the link between sweetened beverage taxes and teens’ consumption of soda and other soft drinks.

They found the number of weekly sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) that adolescents consumed fell by close to 30 percent.

The findings suggests that not only has the policy helped cut sales on fizzy drinks, but could be effective at combatting rising rates of childhood obesity. 

Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia looked at the impact of the city’s soda tax, which was implemented in January 2017, on teen consumption (file image)

The weekly number of soft drinks per week fell from 5.4 prior to the tax to 3.9 per week after the tax, compared to non-taxed cities

The weekly number of soft drinks per week fell from 5.4 prior to the tax to 3.9 per week after the tax, compared to non-taxed cities

Berkeley, California, was the first U.S. city to tax SSBs, settling on a penny-per-ounce tax that went into effect in March 2015.

One year after the introduction of the tax, sales of sugary drinks fell by 9.6 percent while their sales in surrounding areas rose 6.9 percent.

The city’s water sales of increased by 15.6 percent post-tax and sales for other non-taxed drinks such as unsweetened teas, milk and fruit juices also rose.

Since then, several other cities have imposed similar taxes including Albany, Oakland and San Francisco in California; Boulder, Colorado; the District of Columbia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Seattle, Washington.

Philadelphia’s soda tax was passed in January 2017 and is 1.5 cents per ounce.

The City of Brotherly Love is the only city (aside from Washington, DC) to tax any beverage with real or artificial sweeteners, meaning diet sodas are also taxed.

With childhood obesity on the rise – much of which is due to added sugars – researchers wanted to see if the SSB tax helped curb soda consumption among high school students.

For the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, the team look at data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), which collects surveys from high school students across the U.S.

Researchers compared self-reported soda consumption with self-reported milk and 100 percent juice consumption. 

Prior to the tax, high school students in Philadelphia were drinking an average of 5.4 sodas per week. 

After the tax, this fell to an average of 3.9 soft drinks per week, a decline of 27 percent.

Drops were see in consumption across all races/ethnicities with the biggest drop seen in white students from 3.6 drinks per week to 2.8, a decrease of 38 percent.

The number of fizzy drinks also fell among obese students from 5.5 per week to 3.7 per week, declining by 32 percent.

Meanwhile, although the overall number of 100 percent juice servings also declined, they were higher than in cities without soda taxes.

The biggest drop was seen in white students from 3.6 drinks per week to 2.8 per week, a decrease of 38%. Obese students also had 32% fewer fizzy drinks, declining from 5.5 per week to 3.7 per week

The biggest drop was seen in white students from 3.6 drinks per week to 2.8 per week, a decrease of 38%. Obese students also had 32% fewer fizzy drinks, declining from 5.5 per week to 3.7 per week

Post-tax, Philadelphia high school students were drinking 4.9 servings of juice and  per week compared to 4.5 in cities without a tax, meaning 0.5 more servings were consumed in Philadelphia. 

There was no statistical significance in the number of weekly servings of milk consumed before versus after the tax.

According to the CDC, 19.3 percent of children in the U.S. between ages two and 19 were obese in 2018, the latest date for which data is available.

That’s a 14 percent increase from the 16.9 percent who reported the same thing in 2019.  

‘We observed that a citywide sweetened beverage tax was associated with a significant reduction in soda consumed by high school students in Philadelphia,’ the authors wrote.   

‘To our knowledge, this is the largest study to date assessing the association of a sweetened beverage tax with soda consumption in adolescents.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk