Does a beverage tax push down consumption of sugary drinks?

beverage tax

One year after Philadelphia passed its beverage tax, sales of sugary and artificially sweetened beverages dropped by 38 per cent in chain food retailers, according to Penn (University of Pennsylvania) Medicine researchers who conducted one of the largest studies examining the impacts of a beverage tax. 

The results, published in JAMA, translate to almost one billion fewer ounces of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages—about 83 million cans of soft drink—purchased in the Philadelphia area. The findings provide more evidence to suggest beverage taxes can help reduce consumption of sugary drinks, which are linked to the rise in tooth decay, obesity and diabetes.

On 1 January, 2017, Philadelphia became the second city in the US to implement a tax on the distribution of sugary and artificially sweetened beverages. The goal of the 1.5 cent per ounce tax was to generate revenue to support universal pre-K, community schools, and improvements to parks and recreation centres, with the potential side benefit of curbing consumption of unhealthy drinks.

“Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the most effective policy strategies to reduce the purchase of these unhealthy drinks. It is a public health no-brainer and a policy win-win,” Dr Christina Roberto said. 

“It’s likely to improve the long-term health of Philadelphians, while generating revenue for education programs in the city of Philadelphia.”

Beverage taxes have now been passed in seven US cities and are being considered at the state level in Connecticut and Colorado. 


  1. It is clear from numerous studies that beverage taxes hurt working families, small local business and their employees. Many Philadelphians avoid the tax by shopping for beverages outside the city. In fact, a recent study by independent researchers at Stanford and Northwestern found that the sales decreases in the city were fully offset by the cross-border shopping outside the city.

    America’s beverage companies believe there is a better way to help people reduce the amount of sugar they get from beverages than unproductive taxes. We’re creating more drinks with less or no sugar and we’re making smaller bottle and can options more widely available and boosting consumer demand for these options through our marketing. Today, 50 percent of all beverages sold contain zero sugar.

    Taxes on common grocery items like beverages have never really improved public health. In Mexico, obesity rates have increased since the imposition of a beverage tax there. And a tax in Berkeley, California, led to an increase in calories from untaxed high-fat beverages like horchatas that was far more than the calories reduced by the tax. Learn more here:


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