On July 30, Connecticut congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced the SWEET Act, a proposed national tax on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages aimed at reducing rates of obesity and diabetes.
Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, associate professor of Health Policy and Management who researches policies to address obesity calls the legislation, a "very daring move" that builds on awareness generated from education campaigns and the proposed limit in portion size for sodas that the New York State Supreme Court ruled against in June.
A 2012 study by Wang and colleagues found that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. At the same time, such a policy would generate $13 billion in tax revenue and save an additional $17 billion over a decade in medical costs avoided for adults ages 25 to 64.
Representative DeLauro’s bill, the first proposed soda tax on the national level, would tax beverage makers a penny for every teaspoon of sugar or other high-calorie sweeter, or about 12 cents for a can of soda—only slightly less that the amount studied by Wang. Revenues collected would go to the Prevention and Public Health fund to support efforts such as increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables in schools. "It’s a win-win," says Wang.
Even without a soda tax, there is growing evidence that the United States is losing its taste for soda. In a recent Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans reported avoiding soda, compared with 51 percent a decade ago. Soda sales are down 14 percent since 1998, according to the industry publication, Beverage Digest. And Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, recently admitted to Bloomberg Businessweek that he limits himself to only one, 8-ounce Coke a day for health reasons.
Despite this evolution in consumer preferences, greater effort is needed to curb soda consumption. Sugar-sweetened beverages account for more than half of the sugar added to foods and drinks. "We’re still consuming 54 percent of added sugars in these beverages," says Wang, who co-directs the School’s Obesity Prevention Initiative.
Many, including congresswoman DeLauro, believe the national soda tax has little chance of passing, and likely won’t even make it to a vote. DeLauro’s idea is to familiarize Americans with the approach so future efforts can bear fruit. Since a soda tax passed in Mexico in January, the country has seen consumption down 5 percent. Pending two-cent-per-ounce tax proposals in San Francisco and Berkeley are considered likely to pass when they come to a vote in November.