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February 17, 2011 | 2 minute read

A Taxing Problem: Should Sugary Beverages Be Taxed?

Should sugary beverages be taxed? This was the topic of a forum I attended at an American Dietetic Association meeting last week.

Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest took the pro-tax side and Richard A. Williams, Director of Policy Research at George Mason University took the no-tax side.

Here are the main points they made in their arguments:


1.            Research shows a direct relationship between consumption of sugary soft drinks and an increase in the risk of overweight and obesity,* which in turn promote diabetes and other chronic diseases.

2            Health-care costs related to obesity total about $150 billion per year.

3.            Jacobson cited a study showing that a ten cents tax on one can of soda would reduce consumption by 15%.

4.            Revenue raised from this tax could be used for campaigns and education to promote healthy eating.

Against tax:

1.            It is not the government’s role to single out foods that we should or shouldn’t be eating. What we decide to eat is one of our most personal choices.

2.            Only a very large tax on these beverages would be effective at changing behavior. There aren’t many good economic studies on food taxation, but the ones there are show that consumers will pay more for the taxed goods.

3.            Even with a large tax that changed behavior, the change in people’s weight would be minimal. Williams cited one study showing that a tax that adds 40% cost to these beverages would lead to about a person losing one pound in one year (that’s a decrease of about 8 calories per day).

4.            There are better solutions to the problem such as simpler labeling, more education in schools on healthy eating and focusing on portion sizes and overall diets.

What do you think? Should sugary beverages be taxed? If so, how much?

*AICR’s expert report found a probable link between sugary drinks and weight gain, overweight and obesity.

2 comments on “A Taxing Problem: Should Sugary Beverages Be Taxed?

  1. Sheila Halpin on

    I definitely agree with Mr. Jacobson that sugary beverages should be taxed because it has been shown that such a measure will reduce consumption of empty, non-nutritional calories.


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