Policy makers are increasingly interested in implementing sweetened beverage taxes as a strategy for reducing sweetened beverage consumption and associated chronic diseases. Evidence from city-level sweetened beverage taxes in the US indicates that these taxes reduce sales of taxed beverages by an average of 20%. These reductions are important because, if translated into reduced calorie or sugar intake, they could lead to meaningful health benefits over time. Whether sweetened beverage taxes affect purchases of nontaxed beverages, foods, or alcohol is less well studied.
To bridge this knowledge gap, Dr. Anna Grummon (Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health) and colleagues assessed changes in individuals’ purchases of taxed beverage types; low-calorie/low-added-sugar nontaxed beverages; high-calorie/high-added-sugar nontaxed beverages, foods, and alcohol; and beverages from restaurants following implementation of the 1.5 cent-per-ounce Philadelphia sweetened beverage tax. Adult sugar-sweetened beverage consumers in Philadelphia submitted all food and beverage receipts during 2-week periods before the tax was implemented and 3-, 6-, and 12-months after the tax. Participants in Baltimore, a city without a beverage tax, were followed as a comparison group. Changes in purchases from pre- to post-tax in Philadelphia were compared to changes in Baltimore.
Purchases of taxed juice drinks, but not other taxed beverage types, decreased in Philadelphia compared to Baltimore following the tax. Analyses did not find changes in purchases of low-calorie/low-added-sugar nontaxed beverages, such as water or milk. Additionally, analyses did not find increases in purchases of most high-calorie/high-added-sugar nontaxed products, including alcohol, juice, candy, sweet snacks, salty snacks, and desserts. The one exception was that purchases of beverage concentrates increased in Philadelphia relative to Baltimore.
Together, study results, which are published in The Journal of Nutrition, suggest that sweetened beverage taxes could potentially lead to health benefits, given the modest reduction in taxed juice drink purchases coupled with the absence of substantial increases in purchases of most high-calorie/high-added-sugar nontaxed products. These findings also suggest that policymakers interested in sweetened beverage taxes should consider taxing high-sugar beverage concentrates to avoid unintended increases in purchases of these products. These results are also important because most study participants were Black and had lower household incomes, populations that are at disproportionate risk for chronic diseases associated with sweetened beverage consumption.
Anna H Grummon, Christina A Roberto, Hannah G Lawman, Sara N Bleich, Jiali Yan, Nandita Mitra, Sophia V Hua, Caitlin M Lowery, Ana Peterhans, Laura A Gibson, Purchases of Nontaxed Foods, Beverages, and Alcohol in a Longitudinal Cohort After Implementation of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 152, Issue 3, March 2022, Pages 880–888, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab421.
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