Sugar taxes, the controversial charge added to sugary products like soda, are great for public health, including the healthcare industry, according to the American Heart Association. The organization used computer models to evaluate the potential benefits of different types of sugar taxes, including ones based on things like sugar content and overall volume, and found that some options are better than others.
Why tax sugar?
The practice of adding an extra ‘sugar tax’ to certain products has drawn a considerable amount of criticism from those who think the practice is oppressive or greedy. However, past studies have found that sugar taxes — which are often very low — are an effective way to reduce how much refined sugar people consume.
This is important for both personal and public health — excessive refined sugar consumption from things like ice cream, soda, fruit juices, and candy has been linked with a number of health problems, including greater odds of developing certain cancers, diabetes risk, vascular problems, vision troubles, heart disease, and more.
Otherwise preventable conditions caused by eating large amounts of refined sugar increase public healthcare costs, raising taxes and insurance rates, depending on where you live. For these reasons, sugar taxes have been embraced by a number of regions, but the best variety to use is still up for debate.
The best option
Using its computer models, the American Heart Association evaluated three different types of sugar taxes, specifically the kind applied to beverages like soda and juice: volume, which is based on the number of ounces regardless of sugar content; tiered, which adjusts the tax rate based on how much sugar is used; and fixed, which is a flat tax rate per teaspoon of sugar regardless of the size of the product itself.
States in the US that have implemented a sugar tax have only used the first of the options, applying something like a $0.01 tax per ounce of the beverage regardless of how much sugar it contains. Though the AHA says that all three options improve public health and decrease healthcare costs, two are more effective: tiered taxes based on overall sugar levels and sugar content taxes based on the amount of sugar in the product, not a flat-rate tax per ounce.
Study co-lead author Yujin Lee, Ph.D., said:
Overwhelming evidence confirms that food prices have a big impact on purchasing decisions. Taxing sugary drinks influences consumer choices, reducing consumption. U.S. cities have introduced volume taxes on sugary drinks. But our findings suggest that a tiered fixed sugar content tax would be best, reducing consumer intakes while also encouraging manufacturer reformulations to reduce the sugar content of their products.