News & Views

Soda tax win brings hope to diabesity campaigners

Anne Messenger

Published 28 November 2014. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.17061/phrp2511412
Citation: Messenger A. Soda tax win brings hope to diabesity campaigners. Public Health Res Pract. 2014;25(1):e2511412

  • Citation

PUBLIC health advocates are celebrating the passing of a landmark ‘soda tax’ in the US aimed at combatting the damaging health effects of sugary drinks. And they hope it will lead to similar taxes across the US and increase their adoption internationally.

Three-quarters of Berkeley, California, voters said yes in the soda tax ballot on 4 November, however a similar vote in San Francisco on the same day did not deliver the two-thirds majority needed (although more than half voted in favour).

The City of Berkeley’s Measure D, which applies a tax of US$0.12 per 12 ounce can (AUD$0.14 per 350 ml) of sugar-sweetened soft drink, is designed to “diminish the human and economic costs of diseases associated with the consumption of sugary drinks by discouraging their distribution and consumption in Berkeley through a tax”. The city will also create an expert panel to recommend programs to further reduce soft drink consumption.

“Unprecedented” industry spending

Dr Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which campaigned for the tax, told Public Health Research & Practice that Measure D’s passage was “remarkable” in light of unprecedented campaign spending by the soda industry.

“The soda industry’s over-the-top advertising campaign made little impact,” he said. “Armed with overwhelming scientific evidence showing that sugary drinks play a central role in the out-of-control diabetes epidemic, Berkeley voters insisted there be an added price for selling diabetes in a bottle.

“As Berkeley has done so many times in the past, the city has started a movement that will inevitably spread across the nation.”

France, Mexico and the British overseas territory of St Helena have introduced taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks in recent years. Denmark introduced the world’s first soft drink tax in the 1930s, but recently announced its abolition for economic reasons.

In Australia, Dr Bridget Kelly from the University of Wollongong said there had been calls for taxing sugary drinks, and NGOs had advocated on the issue with a Rethink Sugary Drinks campaign, which includes a call for taxation. However, she said a Productivity Commission report into childhood obesity found that such taxes weren’t favoured by government.

Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli, from the University of Technology, Sydney, said the Berkeley tax was an important step that “showed a growing recognition that social and environmental forces beyond individual control were powerful shapers of everyday health decisions”.

Her comments are underscored by a study presented in a poster session on 5 November to the US Obesity Society annual meeting, which found public attitudes towards obesity are shifting away from it being considered a personal problem of “bad choices’ to a community problem of “bad food and inactivity”.

The online study of 48 325 adults, by researchers from ConscienHealth Pennsylvania, Montclair State University New Jersey and Kaiser Permanente Colorado, found people were more likely to view obesity as a community problem in 2014 than they were in 2013 (up from 38% to 25%).