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Study: Berkeley’s Sugary Beverage Tax Increases People’s Calorie Intake

June 27, 2017

The tax resulted in unintended consequences.

A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in Berkeley, California has resulted in consumers paying higher prices for taxed drinks and increasing their caloric intake of untaxed drinks, a study conducted one year after the city implemented the tax has found.

The researchers examined beverage prices, sales, store revenue, and customer beverage intake of 26 stores whose owners pay a 1 cent excise tax per ounce of SSB sold. Berkeley implemented the tax in 2015.

“One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings; SSB sales declined; and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages [sic] rose in Berkeley,” the April 2017 study in the journal PLOS Medicine states.

Not So Sweet

Dr. Chuck Dinerstein, a senior medical fellow at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), says Berkeley passed the tax to promote healthier diets.

“The purpose of the tax was to shape dietary behavior by increasing the consumer’s cost,” Dinerstein wrote in an op-ed for ACSH on April 19. “The thinking goes people will choose less expensive alternative beverages.”

The PLOS Medicine study found consumers’ average daily caloric intake of taxed beverages decreased by six calories per person, but consumers’ average daily caloric intake of untaxed beverages, such as milkshakes and yogurt-based smoothies, increased by 31 calories per person, the American Beverage Association noted and Politico reported on April 19.

The study also found sales of beverages taxed by Berkeley increased in stores just outside the city.

It’s a ‘Sin’

Dinerstein says consumers’ substitution of taxed calories for even more untaxed calories proves the tax is ineffective and punitive.

“Let us call it what it is: Government has determined that drinking soda is a sin, and they are instituting sin taxes on it,” Dinerstein wrote.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (jlehr@heartland.org) is science director for The Heartland Institute.

Internet Info:

Ben Pyle, “Sugary Drink Tax Hits Philly,” Health Care News, The Heartland Institute, May 2, 2017: https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/sugary-drink-tax-hits-philly

Matthew Glans, “The Failure of Sugary Drink Taxes,” Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute, May 16, 2017: https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research--commentary-the-failure-of-sugary-drink-taxes

Image via Thinkstock

Author
Jay Lehr is an internationally renowned speaker, scientist, Senior Policy Advisor with the International Climate Science Coalition and Senior Science Analyst at CFACT.