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The Scientific Argument Against Soda Taxes

Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD

In their continuing quest to legislate eating habits, state legislators in California and Illinois recently introduced two bills in the state assembly, one to tax soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages and another to add warning labels to these drinks. The underlying issue we need to consider is whether taxes and bans on foods and beverages really decrease consumption? Several studies say they do not.

  • A new study in the RAND Journal of Economics evaluated data from 781 households in two suburban areas and concluded that soda taxes will raise revenue but are unlikely to substantially influence soda consumption. Previous studies have overestimated the ability of taxes to reduce intake by nearly 60%.
  • A 2014 report published in HealthEconomics looked at soda and other beverages consumed between 1989 and 2006 for participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), as well as information from two states that substantially increased soda taxes in the 1990’s. Results found little evidence of changes in either beverage consumption or weight.
  • Researchers reported in Preventive Medicine last year that only 22% of the U.S. public favor soda taxes when they determined support for policies to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage intake.
  • A study in Contemporary Economic Policy in 2010 evaluated the effect of changes in state soft drink taxes on body mass index, obesity and overweight and concluded their impact is small.

In my experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist, counseling people about their diet, I’ve found helping them find ways to include some of their favorites has a much better chance of successfully changing eating habits than making certain foods off-limits. So here’s my idea for California and Illinois legislators; Rather than trying to reduce sugar intake with taxes and labels, why not promote education over regulation.  With its ideal growing conditions, California produces over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. Why not celebrate the abundance of flavorful, nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and nuts produced in this state? This would be a more positive way to improve nutrition habits.


Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.

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