After years of inconclusive data, new evidence suggests Seattle’s soda tax works, and works very well


Armed with three years of data on grocery purchases, the researchers found that total sugar sales fell almost 20%, mostly due to lower purchases of soda.

Have you ever had the impression that it is impossible to understand if the taxes on soda Actually work to reduce sugar consumption? We don’t blame you. For years, proposals to collect levies on sugary drinks have fueled heated debate and generated thousands of pages of competing research into their effectiveness. Just as quickly as some jurisdictions implemented such policies, others responded by banning them, creating a confusing patchwork of soda laws across the country.

To readers who are not into the weeds of public health, the initial results of soda tax studies may even seem contradictory. Just take this example of headlines, for example, all published over the past few years: “Soft Drink Taxes Really Work,” read an article by TIME. “Philly’s soda tax hasn’t led people to drink less soda, study finds,” read another. the Philadelphia Investigator. And then there’s this post from NPR: “US soda taxes are working, studies suggest, but maybe not as well as hoped”.

It’s enough to get you to put your hands up and think of simpler things instead. But stay with us as we analyze a new study, the first of its kind, that could tell us once and for all how much soda taxes have reduced sugar consumption in a major city that adopted them. Spoiler: The reductions are significant.

In a recent analysis, researchers used a lot of grocery store data to track food and beverage sales before and after the city of Seattle implemented a sugary drink tax in January 2018. L The data set itself, assembled by marketing analytics firm Nielsen, was huge, accounting for 45% of all food store sales in the city for 2017, 2018, and 2019. To create a control group, the researchers also obtained the same data for the neighboring city of Portland, Oregon, which does not have a sugary drink tax in place.

To account for the different sugar levels in various drinks, a team led by Lisa Powell, professor of health policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, coded each type of drink by its exact sugar content. In doing so, they found that the total amount of sugar sold through taxed drinks fell 23% in Seattle compared to sales of the same products in Portland, a year after the soda tax was implemented. This decline also continued the following year, suggesting that the decline was not just fluke.


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