Doctor: Soda tax is working | Commentary
It is a good thing that Philadelphia stores are carrying fewer sugary beverages and more bottled water; it is a good thing consumers are changing behaviors; and it's a good thing jobs have not been impacted.
More than two years ago, Philadelphia leaders recognized the need to increase access to early childhood education, repair crumbling infrastructure, and improve public health. Through the leadership of Mayor Kenney, the Philadelphia Health Department, and City Council, a plan developed that would fund these much-needed projects and, at the same time, reduce health risks associated with the overconsumption of sugary drinks — a tax on sugary beverages.
Now that the tax has been in effect for almost two years, we are beginning to see some evaluation results. This month, two working papers have been released by the National Bureau of Economic Research confirming what we know: the Philadelphia sweetened beverage tax is working. One paper, looking at the impact of the tax on prices and product availability, found that the tax is being passed on to consumers and that stores in Philadelphia are carrying fewer of the taxed beverages and more bottled water since the city's tax took effect.
The second paper looked at the impact of the tax on purchases and consumption by adults and children. The results showed that kids who were drinking about 20 ounces of soda a day prior to the tax (about 15 times the recommended limit) dropped their added sugar consumption by 22 percent. Consumption dropped significantly for adults who were regular soda drinkers. This is important because 35 percent of Philly residents were daily drinkers of regular soda before the tax. Consumption dropped significantly among African American adults. Shoppers who increased their beverage purchases outside the city were people who were already going outside the city to shop. People shopping inside Philadelphia decreased their purchases by 2 liters a month.
As a medical doctor, I see the impact sugary drinks have. Through research, we know half of adults, two-thirds of youth, and nearly half of young children – 2- to 5-year-olds – consume at least one sugary drink a day. Just one 12-ounce soda contains about 10 teaspoons of added sugar. This has led to a health crisis. In fact, every year, 40,000 people in the United States die from heart problems because of consuming too many sugary drinks. It is a good thing that Philadelphia stores are carrying fewer sugary beverages and more bottled water; it is a good thing consumers are changing behaviors; and it's a good thing jobs have not been impacted.
Let's not forget the broader community impact. The City recently announced that 2,500 children from low-income neighborhoods will have access to high-quality pre-K, and plans are in place to soon begin projects that will update parks and libraries. I am proud of our leaders for finding solutions to address problems that exist in our city. I celebrate the success of the beverage tax and look forward to the improved health that will follow.
Paul Mather, MD, is a professor of clinical medicine and a cardiologist specializing in heart failure at transplant at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is the immediate past president of the American Heart Association's Great Rivers affiliate.