All it would take is an extra penny tacked onto to every ounce of soda sold in the United States to prevent 95,000 coronary heart events, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 premature deaths over the next 10 years.
Overall, researchers calculated, a nationwide soda tax would also prevent 240,000 cases of diabetes each year and it would save $17 billion in medical costs over the coming decade.
Could soda be to blame for so many of our nation’s ills? It’s a question that scientists have been debating for years, and the new study tried for the first time to really quantify what the health benefits of a soda tax might be.
They started with the basic facts. Americans consumed 13.8 billion gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages in 2009, the researchers wrote in the journal Health Affairs. That adds up to about 45 gallons – or 70,000 extra calories – per person of soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, sports drinks, and other sweet drinks each year.
There is nothing else in our diets that supplies so much added sugar, and studies have linked these extra calories to obesity, diabetes and related problems. But efforts to add taxes to soda as an obesity-prevention method have stalled in states that have considered it.
To gauge what kind of impact this kind of special tax might have, researchers from Columbia University, Virginia Tech University and the University of California, San Francisco, first assumed that the tax would lead to a 15 percent drop in the amount of soda adults drank. They also assumed that people would make up for 40 percent of that reduction with other caloric drinks, such as juice or milk.
Then, the researchers calculated how much weight people could be expected to lose and they modeled projected health benefits. With even a minor price hike that would encourage people to drink a little less soda, they predicted, there would soon be 867,000 fewer obese adults in this country.
And that’s just with a 20 cent – or 25 percent – price rise for each 20-ounce bottle of pop. If young people could be discouraged from starting a soda habit early in life, the public health impacts could be even greater and longer lasting.