Two New Studies Suggest Small Soda Taxes Don’t Reduce Obesity Rates

At least 20 states are fighting obesity (and raising revenue) by taxing soft drinks “sold in stores at a higher rate than other types of food.” But two new studies conducted by researchers at Yale and Rand seem to suggest that the relatively low tax rates (the average rate, net of taxes on other food, was 2.08% in 2008) may be doing little to decrease obesity rates.

Both studies conclude that the current beverage taxes are neither large enough nor “transparent enough to lead to meaningful behavioral change” and recommend that states jack up their rates. The Yale researchers also find that states need to remove soda from school cafeterias and vending machines if they hope to reduce child obesity:

Policy Recommendations These results also suggest specific ways to revise future policies to better affect children’s weight outcomes. In particular, we make two recommendations based on our results. First, if states or schools implement policies aimed at reducing access to soft drinks, these restrictions must be comprehensive. Soft drinks should be completely removed from schools for this policy to have a greater chance of being effective — no vending machines, no cafeteria sales, no access anywhere. It is important to note, though, that continued access to soft drinks from homes, convenience stores, and other outlets may still serve to reduce the effects of completely removing soft drink sales from schools.

Second, our findings suggest that incremental changes in taxes on beverages will be largely ineffective. This finding does not preclude the effectiveness of very large increases in taxation on these products, as have been proposed in New York, for example. To date, we know of no evidence that could forecast the likely impacts of substantial changes in soft drink taxes with certainty, but we speculate that an environment of high taxes on soft drinks (as well as unhealthy substitutes), combined with informed consumers, may lead to weight reductions in children.


So a small soda tax may not trip the waistline, but so long as any revenue is dedicated towards funding public health programs, the people who choose to consume ridiculous amounts of Diet Coke or Mountain Dew are paying some part of the extra medical costs associated with that behavior. It’s a good way to raise money and discourage unhealthy behavior (to some degree). Too bad it’s not part of how we’re financing health reform..