Philadelphia's new tax on sweetened beverages -- even diet beverages -- is at last in place, and many consumers aren't happy about it. But if the tax has you drinking less soda, a new study might help alleviate at least some of the sting: Drinking diet beverages does nothing to prevent weight gain, according to an analysis published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Sugary-drink taxes often are designed to coax us into reducing calories and, presumably, reduce obesity. Philadelphia is one of the few cities that has included diet drinks in its tax dragnet, something critics have said shows the city is interested in raising money, not promoting health.
But the journal warns that artificially sweetened beverages may be worse than just ineffective at promoting weight loss and keeping it off. Synthetic sweeteners may throw the bacterial balance of the gut out of whack, triggering a pre-diabetic condition called glucose intolerance.
City officials expect the 1.5-cent per ounce tax to generate about $91 million a year, money that is slated to fund pre-K education, city employee benefits and parks.
Following in Philadelphia's footsteps, voters in Chicago's Cook County, San Francisco, Oakland, and Boulder, Colo. approved drink taxes in November as anti-obesity measures. None of the cities, however, chose to tax artificially-sweetened beverages.
The PLOS Medicine analysis also stated that the few studies that have found health benefits to artificially sweetened beverages have been funded by the food industry.