Mayors Consider “Soda Tax” to Reduce Obesity, Increase Resources
By Crystal D. Swann
April 5, 2010
In cities across the nation, mayors are struggling to balance budgets against the backdrop of deteriorating health conditions for children. Childhood obesity affects nearly one in three children, and the numbers are higher for children of color. In cities and states, elected officials are figuring out ways to both reduce consumption and increase funding to address childhood obesity and other related health and social issues. One strategy is the “soda tax,” or a tax on sugary beverages.
Research has shown that consumption of sweetened drinks is associated with increased weight, poor nutrition, and a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. One study suggests that obesity and related problems cost California alone $41 billion per year in medical expense and reduced productivity. The soda tax can be an effective way to offset those human and financial costs. Even President Obama indicated in late 2009 that, “a soda tax is worth considering” when discussing items to include in health care reform legislation. One study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, estimated that a ten percent increase in the price of soda would lead to a seven percent decrease in the amount of soda calories people consume. And a recent paper in the American Journal of Public Health pooled results from 14 previous studies and concluded that for the broad category of “soft drinks,” a ten percent increase in prices would lead to an eight percent decrease in consumption.
nt increase in prices would lead to an eight percent decrease in consumption.
In the face of mounting scientific evidence, cities across the country are considering a soda tax in their communities. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed a statewide soda tax to help fight obesity by reducing consumption—the tax would also help close a nearly $9 billion state budget gap. (The Governor of New York also supports the tax.) Bloomberg, whose administration has successfully banned trans fats in restaurant food and also banned smoking from many public areas, is also primed to seek state approval for a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages bought in New York City. “An extra 12 cents on a can of soda would raise nearly $1 billion, allowing us to keep community health services open and teachers in the classroom,” Bloomberg stated during his weekly radio program. The customer, however, wouldn’t pay the tax; instead it would be a levy on drink producers.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a one-cent-per-ounce levy (tax) on all sugar'sweetened drinks a part of his city’s fiscal budget. A primary goal is to help close the city’s current budget shortfall, which could top $100 million by June. With nearly half of Philadelphia’s children and adults either overweight or obese, a soda tax could also be an important tool in reversing the obesity epidemic in the city.
In more than a dozen states proposals imposing some tax on sugary beverages have surfaced; recently, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick released a $28 billion budget proposal that includes a cut to local aid—up to four percent—and a corresponding increase in taxes on candy and soda. California legislators have also vowed to pass a soda tax in light of studies linking soft drink consumption to obesity in children and adults.
The United States Conference of Mayors supports an array of strategies to increase city resources to reverse the nation’s childhood epidemic. In June 2008, the Conference adopted a resolution entitled “In Support of Funding Obesity Prevention,” which calls for “increased resources for cities to help combat obesity and fund obesity prevention, including consideration of revenues from the major leading contributors of the nation’s obesity epidemic, including calorically sweetened beverages, fast food and high calorie snacks.”