Small taxes on soda do little to reduce soft drink consumption or prevent childhood obesity, but larger levies probably would, according to new research.
The study is being released as a recent wave of proposals would raise soda taxes or create new ones on sugared beverages. But they’ll have to be a lot steeper than current taxes, which are generally 4 percent or less, said Roland Sturm, lead author of the new research.
“Small taxes will not prevent obesity,” said Sturm, a senior economist at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif.
Sturm and his colleagues used information from a 2004 national survey of about 7,300 fifth-graders. The researchers looked at how the children’s height and weight had changed over the previous two years and how often the kids said they drank soda and sports drinks. The researchers also reviewed taxes on carbonated drinks that were in effect in 2004.
Roughly two-thirds of the children lived in states that had a tax on soda greater than on other food items. The highest was 7 cents tax on each dollar’s worth of soda. The average was about 4 cents.
They found the taxes made no real diff erence on overall soda consumption or on obesity for kids overall. They did have a small effect on certain children — especially those from families with an annual income of $25,000 or less. Those kids — who drank about seven cans of soda a week, on average — drank one less can because of the taxes, Sturm said.
However, if the taxes were more like 18 cents on the dollar, Sturm calculated it would make a significant diff erence.
The research published online April 1 in the journal Health Affairs. The Rand study was funded by the federal government and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Most states exempt grocery food from sales taxes. But in recent years, candy and soft drinks have been increasingly targeted, either through a tax or removal of an existing sales tax exemption.
The children in the study were from 40 states, 20 of which had soda taxes when the study was done.
More than 30 states have some form of soda tax today, averaging about 5 cents per dollar of soda.
But most people don’t want their soda taxed, according to the American Beverage Association, which represents soda manufacturers.