Soda Taxes Won't Actually Cut Obesity, But Stopping Subsidizing Sugar & Corn Might: Study


photo: Alexander Kaiser/Creative Commons

It's tempting to think that in the fight against rising obesity rates in the US simply taxing soda (or pop, depending on your upbringing) will help slow our collectively expanding waistline. A new piece by Miller-McCune highlights some new research showing that the poor, who statistically buy more sugary carbonated beverages than other classes, aren't the ones who are likely to change their behavior because of these small taxes, it's the middle class. The new study, in the Archives of Internal Medicine, says that both the wealthy and the poor won't be hit particularly hard by soda taxes, and neither group will lose much weight.

Even at a tax of 40%, an average family of four's food budget is only set back by $28 a year, the research finds. To a wealthy family, this is a fraction of an hour's wage; to a low-income family, while their spending habits may change because of the tax, it in no way assured that they will start adopting healthier and less fattening beverage choices.

Finkelstein posits that lower-income families spend less money of food anyway, so a 20 percent tax on a $1 item makes little impact. But families might also be spending that money on substituted items equally high in calories--or spending that money on the same items a little more strategically.

Because of this, if the goal is fighting obesity, a better approach would be eliminating the federal price supports that make sugary, unhealthy beverages cheaper than their healthy alternatives in the first place.

Read more: Miller-McCune
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Tags: Diet | Economics | United States