Tag Archives: soda

It’s official: soda tax offers “net good” to society

Despite opposition from the soda industry, studies consistently show that sugary drinks need to be taxed.

Want a simple way to improve society? Tax soda, researchers say.

For kids and adults alike, sugary drinks (soda drinks, fizzy drinks — call them as you will) have become nigh ubiquitous — they’re just everywhere. The world loves them and can’t get enough, but there is a cost to all of this. The vast majority of such drinks are essentially devoid of any useful nutrients or fiber and are very rich in sugar, which aside from being notoriously bad for your teeth, is also one of the main culprits of the ongoing global obesity crisis.

In this regard, soda drinks are very similar to alcohol or cigarettes: you don’t drink them because they offer something useful, you drink them as a very small luxury, and an unhealthy one like that. So if cigarettes and alcohol are taxed for these reasons, why shouldn’t sugary drinks be taxed in the same way?

In recent years, economists have been arguing more and more for a soda tax. It makes perfect sense — on the one hand, you reduce the consumption of unhealthy substances, improving society’s quality of life and reducing the burden associated with being overweight, and on the other hand, you raise a lot of money which can be used to develop health programs that add further benefits. A new study analyzed that idea at a fundamental level, and found that a soda tax adds a net benefit in society, if implemented correctly.

“The research is clear that sugary drinks are bad for our health,” explain Hunt Allcott, Wharton’s Benjamin Lockwood, and Dmitry Taubinsky, the papers’ authors. “Our study takes a next step to evaluate the overall economic rationale as to whether we should impose a tax. Using an economic framework, we show that taxing soda generates net benefits to society–taking into account the health effects, the enjoyment that people get from drinking the drinks they enjoy, the value of the tax revenues, and other factors.”

Americans are aware that they drink a lot of soda, the study finds. Just over half of Americans say they drink “more often than I should,” so at least at some level, many people would like to drink less. Previous studies have shown that people with higher nutritional awareness also tend to drink less soda, which suggests that if people were fully informed, they would make better, healthier decisions.

A nationwide soda tax in the US would yield $7 billion in net benefits to society each year, and national (or at least regional) taxes work best. Currently, several cities in the US have implemented such a sugar tax, but the tax impact is limited by the fact that people can simply go outside of town and buy cheaper soda.

Much like the cars emitting pollution that harms others, sugar can cause a wide array of health issues, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. This translates into medical bills which are paid by taxpayers or (in some cases in the US) by private insurers. At any rate, having healthier people also translates into reduced costs, but the opposite is also true: unhealthy people will produce a financial cost to society. In this case, researchers estimate that drinking an average 12-ounce can of Coke will impose about 10 cents on others.

These health issues disproportionately affect low-income people, but opponents of a sugar tax have claimed that applying an extra cost will also disproportionately affect this category. This new study finds that this is not the case.

“We estimate that soda taxes benefit both low- and high-income people,” the researchers say. “While low-income people drink more sugary drinks and thus pay more in soda taxes, their health also benefits more from drinking less.”

The study also finds that taxing the actual sugar is more effective than taxing the liquid which contains sugar. A tax of 0.5 cents per gram of sugar would work much better than the 1 cent per ounce of liquid, which is often discussed in practice. This is because, although all sugary drinks are dangerous, some have much more sugar than others, and should be taxed accordingly.

Lastly, the team also discusses diet drinks. The city of Philadelphia, for instance, implemented a sugar tax that also applies to replacements of sugary drinks. While there have been concerns regarding the effects of such drinks on human health, the results are much less clear. Simply put, we’re sure sugary drinks do a lot of damage, and we’re not exactly sure how much damage replacements do. For now, the team recommends taxing sugar.

“Soda taxes should be limited to sugary drinks, where the health evidence is more clear,” the economists conclude.

The study has been published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Just one daily sugary drink is enough to dramatically increase your risk of premature death

Hopefully, most people are aware that sugary drinks such as soda or energy drinks aren’t exactly healthy — to put it lightly. However, a new study suggests that consuming even a single sugary drink a day can dramatically increase a person’s risk of premature death from heart disease. The risk was especially pronounced for women.

Credit: Pixabay.

Researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed two datasets of 80,647 women and 37,717 men working in the healthcare sector, running from 1980 to 2014. Every two years, each participant had to answer a series of questionnaires that evaluated their lifestyle and health.

After adjusting for diet and other lifestyle factors, the researchers found that the more sugary drinks a person consumes during a given time frame, the higher the risk of an early grave.

Compared to those who drank a sugary drink once per month, individuals who consumed one to four sugary drinks per month had a 1% increased risk of premature death. However, the risk jumped dramatically with just a few added drinks. Those who drank two to six sugary beverages per week had a 6% increase, one to two a day saw a 14% increase, while two or more drinks led to a 21% increase.

The risk was even worse for early death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Those who drank two or more sugary drinks a day had a 31% higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease. Each additional serving was linked with a 10% increased higher risk of CVD-related death.

“Our results provide further support to limit intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity,” said Vasanti Malik, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study.

Previously, studies showed that sugary drinks — such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks — are the single largest source of added sugar in Americans’ diet. Although doctors recommend consuming no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugars, many people overindulge. Sugary drink intake is especially growing in developing countries as more and more people move to cities and due to aggressive beverage marketing.

“These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death. The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences,” Walter Willett, a Harvard professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said in a statement.

The researchers also looked at the risks of consuming artificially sweetened beverages, finding that replacing soda with diet soda was linked to a lower risk of premature death. This may be due to the “reverse causation” effect — that is, the people may have switched to diet drinks because of their existing heart disease risks. But that’s not to say that artificially sweetened beverages are totally safe. Intaking more than 4 diet sodas a day was associated with a higher risk of mortality among women. Previously, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York found that women over the age of 50 who consumed two or more artificially sweetened diet beverages were 31% more likely to have a clot-based stroke and 29% more likely to have heart disease.

The findings appeared in the journal Circulation.

Sugary drinks make you fat, but researchers have a new idea about how to fight that

As the FIFA World Cup kicks off, advertisements for sugary drinks are in full swing. However, the well-known drinks from adverts have been scientifically proven to make you fat, a new study concludes.

It’s no secret that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity — although some people still have a hard time digesting that fact. What you’re drinking is essentially sugary water, empty calories that have little to none nutrients.

The link between sugary drinks and obesity is well-established, and although sugary drinks are still a favorite of many people, researchers strongly advise against this preference.

So what should you drink, then?

“Water is and always will be the healthiest thing to drink,” emphasizes Maria Wakolbinger, a nutritional scientist from the Center for Public Health at MedUni Vienna.

However, if you must have some flavor in your water, researchers suggest an unusual idea: dilute it with water.

In a subsequent study, the same researchers argue that adding water into sugary drinks can be a viable strategy to reduce the negative health impact.

“Half a litre of lemonade contains on average more than 200 calories or the equivalent of 18 sugar cubes but, if you mix that in a ratio of 1:3, then it is only 50 calories or 5 sugar cubes for the same quantity,” Wakolbinger adds.

The idea is not unheard-of — in some areas, wine (especially white wine) is mixed with fizzy water, a so-called “spritz.” Wakolbinger also points out that if you get used to drinking “spritzers,” your taste will gradually adapt and that will have a beneficial effect on your health.

Quite often, especially when going out, people drink sodas just because they want to drink something, which is where this approach would probably be most beneficial. You could essentially halve your consumption using this method.

Regarding the Football World Cup, researchers also caution that other foods and drinks commonly consumed during sporting events are also calorie-rich and nutrient-poor: a liter of beer contains 210 calories, a whole pizza up to 900 calories, and a hamburger around 700 calories per portion. Add a portion of chips, and that’s another 500 calories — and that’s not even mentioning the fats. If you want to keep your “bikini figure,” Wakolbinger has a few suggestions, though you might not like them:

“Vegetable sticks with yoghurt dips, lean meat with vegetables or salad – and unsalted nuts instead of fat-laden crisps.”

Journal References:

  • “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies.” Maria Luger (Wakolbinger) et al. DOI: 10.1159/000484566. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29237159
  • “Gradual reduction of free sugars in beverages on sale by implementing the beverage checklist as a public health strategy.” Maria Luger (Wakolbinger) et al. DOI: 10.1093/eurpub/cky039. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29554259

Diet soda might actually make you fatter, new study suggests

If you thought no-sugar drinks are OK for you… think again.

Both sugar and sugarless drinks have been proven to be bad for you (Pixabay).

Worldwide, the industry of sugary drinks has reached an impressive scale. Coca Cola alone claims to sell 1.9 billion servings every single day. The world seems to run on soda… but the world is also paying a price. There’s plenty of health concerns regarding soft drinks, most of them concerning the amount of sugar found in such drinks. But producers — crafty people — found a solution: sugarless drinks. It was perfect! People gobbled it up, sales went up, and the world seemed to love these sugarless alternatives. But not all was good.

These drinks also needed to be sweet, and so artificial sweeteners came to be. Nonnutritive sweeteners such as Aspartame, Cyclamates, or Stevia, contain very little or no calories because they are not completely absorbed by your digestive system. Your body just takes them in and then spews them out. However, we don’t really know how good or bad these artificial sweeteners are for you.

“Nonnutritive sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevioside, are widely consumed, yet their long-term health impact is uncertain,” the study reads. “We synthesized evidence from prospective studies to determine whether routine consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners was associated with long-term adverse cardiometabolic effects.”

In fact, several studies showed that these artificial sweeteners really aren’t good for you — but the main appeal remained. No sugar equals fewer calories, and therefore you don’t get weight. Fewer calories, fewer pounds. Seems pretty straightforward, except it might not be true.

An international team led by Meghan Azad, a researcher at the University of Manitoba, reviewed dozens of studies about these sweeteners, looking for underlying trends. They found that not only were people who drank a lot of such drinks at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease but also had a higher body mass index.

“Evidence from randomized controlled trials does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of nonnutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI and cardiometabolic risk,” researchers noted in the study.

Of course, this is just a correlation at this point and no cause-effect mechanism has been established. It could be that there is an external factor causing both things, or the causality might actually run the other way: it might be that people who are getting fatter tend to drink more. But for now, if you’re into such products, you should definitely keep an eye on your consumption.

This isn’t the first time scientists have revealed the negative impact of artificial sweeteners. A study in the April 20, 2017, issue of Stroke examined how soft drink choices might affect the brain. It found that people who reported drinking at least one artificially sweetened soda a day compared with less than one a week were approximately twice as likely to have a stroke. Another 2012 study detected a slightly higher risk of stroke in people who drank more than one soda per day, regardless of whether it contained sugar or not. The bottom line is, soda is pretty bad for you — whether or not it contains sugar.

Journal Reference: Meghan B. Azad et al — Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.161390

Berkley’s penny-per-ounce soda tax paid off, a new study reports

An analysis of Berkeley’s “soda tax,” an U.S. first, finds some encouraging results about its power to influence people’s dietary habits.

The fizziest of killers.
Image credits Eddie Welker / Flickr.

Back in 2014, the city of Berkeley, California, passed a bill to issue a one penny-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages sold in the city. Five months after its implementation, lower-income residents had reduced their consumption if these items by 21% compared to pre-tax levels. The drop in consumption coincided with a period when the people of Oakland and San Francisco increased the amount of sodas and other sugared drinks that they consumed by 4%. Locals also increased their water consumption by 63% over the study period while their neighbors only drank 19% more water, the study found.

Soda taxes have worked in Mexico, they’ve been implemented in the UK, and now their efficacy has been confirmed once more. The Berkeley study proved that taxes can be used to steer people away from excessively sugary drinks, just as with tobacco or alcohol, said a public health researcher at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study Dr. Kristine Madsen.

“While Berkeley is just one small city, this is an important first step in identifying tools that can move the needle on population health,” Madsen said in a statement.

Some two dozen states have considered adding excise taxes on sugary beverages in the past, including Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., reported the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. But Berkeley was the first to actually implement Measure D in 2014 after a campaign framed as “Berkeley vs. Big Soda.

An excise tax won’t show up at the register, and instead gets mixed into the full price of the item. This means higher prices for the consumer, and three months after Measure D went into effect 47% of the penny-per-ounce tax was taken out of customers’ pockets. For sodas in particular, 69% of the tax was incorporated into the price.

Madsen and her team wanted to know how the tax impacted buying habits so they sent interviewers to busy intersections in census tracts with large numbers of low-income and non-white residents. The focus was placed on these groups as they are “more likely to consume [sugar-sweetened beverages] and suffer related health consequences,” such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the researchers wrote. The interviewers asked locals in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco how often they consumed five categories of drinks:: full-calorie soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sweetened tea or coffee concoctions.

The first set of interviews was taken at least eight months prior to the tax coming into effect, to establish the initial conditions. The second was taken five months after implementation. Nearly 3,000 people answered the questions in either English or Spanish.

After controlling for age, gender, race, ethnicity and education level, the researchers found that Berkeley locals had strikingly different drinking habits from those in Oakland or San Francisco. They drank 26% less soda after the tax went into effect, while their neighbors drank 10% more. In the case of sports drinks, Berkeley residents cut back by 36%, while Oakland and San Francisco drank 21% more. Both of these differences are large enough to be statistically significant, the authors note. These trends held for other categories, too. Arizona Iced Tea, bottled Frappuccinos and other sweetened coffee products or teas were 13% less consumed in Berkeley but 22% more consumed in Oakland and San Francisco.

Energy drink consumption dropped all in all cities, but was more pronounced in Berkeley with 29% than in the other cities, at 14%. Fruit drink consumption was lowered by 13% in Berkeley and 12% in the other cities.

More than  20% of Berkeley residents (124 in total) reported that the tax directly affected their drinking habits. Out of these, 82% said they consumed sugary drinks less frequently, and 40% said they had reduced their portion sizes. About 5% of people who said they had purchased sugary drinks in Berkeley before the tax went into effect (18 respondents) reported they now bought these drinks in other cities, and 6 claimed that the tax caused the switch.

The team didn’t calculate what this reduction means in terms of calories, so the policy’s effect on obesity remains unknown. They also noted that the health messages discussed during the election campaign may have had an effect on the shift from sugary drinks to water.

At the same time, because this was tested in a single city, it remains unclear how the results would carry over to a wider scale of several cities or even whole states. But if a nationwide tax were to cut sugary drink consumption by a similar amount, Americans as a whole could gain about 101,000 healthy years over a decade, according to another study cited by the researchers.

“Widespread adoption of [sugar-sweetened beverage] excise taxes could have considerable fiscal and public health benefits,” the authors conclude.

The full paper, titled “Impact of the Berkeley Excise Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption” has been published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

UK to introduce tax on sugary drinks

UK has announced the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks, based on the amount of sugar in the beverages. The main goal is to “help tackle childhood obesity, by incentivising companies to reduce the sugar in the drinks they sell [and] to fund a doubling of the primary schools sports premium to £320 million per year from September 2017.” It’s a much needed measure for a nation with an evergrowing obesity rate.

Photo by SMC.

When a new tax is introduced, people usually get upset, but this shouldn’t be the case this time. This is a much needed measure, especially considering 28.1% of adults in the United Kingdom were recognised as clinically obese. For children, data from the Health Survey for England (HSE) conducted in 2014 found that 17% of children were obese and an additional 14% of children were overweight. The main culprit is sugar, and soft drinks contain way more sugar than is healthy. The decision writes:

Sugar consumption is a major factor in childhood obesity, and sugar-sweetened soft drinks are now the single biggest source of dietary sugar for children and teenagers.81 A single 330ml can of cola can contain more than a child’s daily recommended intake of added sugar.82 Public health experts have identified sugar-sweetened soft drinks of this kind as a major factor in the prevalence of childhood obesity.83

Budget 2016 announces a new soft drinks industry levy targeted at producers and importers of soft drinks that contain added sugar. The levy will be designed to encourage companies to reformulate by reducing the amount of added sugar in the drinks they sell, moving consumers towards lower sugar alternatives, and reducing portion sizes.

When announcing this new law, Chancellor said that the tax will be introduced in September 2017, to allow companies time to adjust, amongst other things, the recipes for their drinks. He added that the tax will be “assessed on the volume of sugar sweetened drinks they produce or import.”

The tax will work on two levels. The first will be applied on all drinks with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml, and the second, which will be higher, for drinks with more than eight grams per 100ml. Natural juices and milk are exempted from this tax, because unlike juices or milk, sugary drinks contain none of the necessary nutrients, making them more likely to contribute to obesity. The levy is expected to raise £520 million in the first year.

The scientific evidence has been loud and clear on this matter: if we want to fight obesity, we have to fight sugar. Sugary drinks especially should be targeted. A systematic review published in 2006 that examined 50 years of studies found a link between consumption of sugary drunks and obesity. Subsequent studies have found similar results.

“The correlations between soda and obesity are extremely strong,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and the author of the book Soda Politics told Business Insider.


Mexico’s soda tax is working, sales drop by 14%

A new study found that Mexico’s soda tax had a positive impact on purchasing habits just one year after implementation. The results show a decrease in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption accompanied by an increase in sales of untaxed drinks throughout the country.

Let’s face it, we all like soda. Undoubtedly the insane quantity of sugar they contain make them the equivalent of catnip for our brains (brainnip? — I’m coining that term). But they’re really bad for your health; they’ve been linked to everything from tooth decay, to diabetes and obesity.

Faced with a so-called “epidemic of obesity,” caused by American soda franchises opening up in Mexico and offering a lot of cheap but unhealthy products, the Mexican government decided to implement a tax of 1 peso per liter (or 10% out of total sales price) for sugar-sweetened beverages. While similar strategies have also been suggested for the U.S. (only implemented in Berkeley, California in March 2015 so far) the fact remains that there’s little research done into how such a tax affects purchasing behaviors over time.

These jellos ironically have less sugar than the soda it’s imitating.
Image via pixabay

One year after the implementation of the tax however, we’re already seeing a positive impact of the tax in the Mexico markets; the authors of the study report that an average of 6% decline in purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages along with an 4% increase in sales of beverages with no added sugar (which remained untaxed) was recorded. The drop in sales increased over time, reaching the peak of 12% drop in December of 2014. These values are relative to projected sales expectations sans-tax.

To reach these numbers, the team mined data on beverage sales in Mexico from January of 2012 (before the tax was implemented) through to December 2014. The data shows that in 2014, the average person bought around four fewer liters of the taxed beverages compared to what they did before the soda-tax went into effect; the most significant decline was recorded among low-income households.

The authors say it’s too early to determine for certain whether the tax is really working; the study is observational and cannot prove causality, and other factors such as health campaigns or economic changes also had an effect on sales.

In a corresponding editorial, Franco Sassi, a senior health economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, writes that

“Taxes can be part of a public health strategy—and Mexico’s is a great example for other countries—but they cannot be viewed as a magic bullet in the fight against obesity,” wrote Franco Sassi, a senior health economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris in a corresponding editorial.

The soda-tax did have a positive impact in Mexico; but while taxation makes these beverages less attractive to buyers by increasing price, complementary policies like health education programs are required for a successful anti-obesity campaign.

25-year old loses all his teeth due to soda addiction

William Kennewel wasn’t a big fan of water – drinking soda instead of it pretty much all the time; now, he has become living proof of the damage soft drinks can cause to your teeth.

teeth drink

“I’m told a normal person has about 23 teeth, but … I only had 13 left and they had to be removed,” he said. “It started because I wasn’t a huge water fan and working in the hotel industry, I had easy access to Coke. Because my teeth were decaying so badly, it caused blood poisoning which just made me sick, but my health improved with the dentures.”

He reported drinking some 6-8 liters of soda each day, an addiction he tried to fight but just couldn’t, despite warnings from doctors and dentists. This raises further concerns about people not really understanding the huge health threat posed by regular consumption of soft drinks. Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health senior research fellow Dr Jason Armfield has called for health warnings on labels to include risk of tooth decay.

“However, singling out one particular part of the diet is a misguided approach to dealing with an issue such as dental hygiene,” he said.

Despite losing all his teeth, Kennewel believes such a warning would do little prevention good, and he believes that even his case isn’t a strong enough proof against drinking lots of soda. But if you care about your teeth (not to mention other affected areas), you really should take example from him and lay back on your soda (and energy drinks) habits.