USDA Says Soda Tax Would Reduce Obesity
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has added its voice to the
debate on soda tax and the prevalence of overweight and obesity, saying
that a 20 percent price increase would make a significant difference.
The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) said it was prompted to
examine the health effects of taxing calorically sweetened beverages
after the Institute of Medicine and the National Academies of Sciences
among others suggested that such a tax could help combat soaring obesity
rates in the United States. The USDA said that 66.9 percent of US
adults are overweight, and 33.4 percent are obese – but found that
a 20 percent soda tax could reduce overweight prevalence to 62.4 percent
and prevalence of obesity to 30.4 percent over a year.
Its study, drawing on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
(NHANES) data, found that increasing the price of sugary sodas by
20 percent could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day,
equivalent to 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year for adults, and
an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for
The ERS report said that the potential reduction in the number of
overweight or obese individuals is due to a large number of adults
being overweight or obese by only a few pounds, meaning that even
a small weight loss would shift them to a different category; and
also because caloric sweetened beverages are disproportionately consumed
by overweight people. The report noted that 10.6 percent of overweight
adults consume more than 450 calories a day from caloric sweetened
beverages – nearly three times the average of 152 calories.
The report used NHANES data on beverage consumption and body mass
index (BMI), and then used price elasticity approximates to estimate
changes in caloric intake for each beverage category in response to
a tax-induced 20-percent increase in the price of caloric sweetened
beverages. The researchers assumed that one pound of body fat is equivalent
to 3,500 calories.
In addition to the potential effects for adults, the USDA said a beverage
tax could have a major effect on children’s weight.
“For children, the at-risk-for-overweight prevalence could decline
from 32.3 to 27.0 percent, and the prevalence of overweight children
could decline from 16.6 to 13.7 percent,” the researchers wrote.
However, they cautioned that the effectiveness of a soda tax would
depend on how much of the expense is passed on to the consumer.
“Responsiveness at the individual or household level could vary across
other elements, such as personal preference and income level. The
ultimate outcome would depend on many factors, including the size
of the tax, the type of tax, and the competitive strategies of beverage
manufacturers and food retailers,” the report concluded.
The American Beverage Association has vociferously opposed soda taxes,
calling them ‘simplistic and ineffective’ for dealing with public
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