U.S. obesity rates could fall if soda pop prices rise

June 18, 2010

According to Reuters, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that raising the price of a can of soda by 35% cut soft drink sales in a hospital cafeteria by 26%, offering some evidence that adding a tax to soda pop may prod consumers into making better choices.

Obesity adds an estimated $147 billion a year in costs to the U.S. healthcare system and several states, including New York and California, have weighed a tax on sweetened soft drinks to defray the cost of obesity-related diseases. First Lady Michelle Obama last month unveiled a 70-point plan to reduce childhood obesity which called for an analysis of the impact of local sales taxes on consumption of less healthy foods.

For the study, the researchers raised the price of a can of soda by 45 cents or 35% in the cafeteria at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. and then measured the effect on sales. The price increase applied to sugary soft drinks, which they defined as carbonated beverages with calories.

Instead of reaching for an energy drink or fruit juice, people tended to increase their consumption of diet drinks or coffee during the study period. The team compared the effect of a price increase to an educational campaign, in which the team posted signs and information about weight loss and the need to cut back on sweetened beverages. This appeared to have no effect on buying habits of regular soda.

The researchers concluded that the study suggests a price increase should be part of the conversation policymakers have among themselves as they weigh options to address obesity in the United States.

Reuters article