Did Philadelphia soda tax lead to less consumption?

Taxing soda and other sugar sweetened beverages has been seen as a tool to encourage more healthy behaviors. A look at soda consumption in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania provides insight into whether it works.

Over the past decade, cities and counties have enacted taxes on sodas and sugary beverages, with the intent of reducing consumption of them. One of them was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which went into effect in January 2017. A report in JAMA Pediatrics looked at whether this tax led to less soda consumption by high school students.1

Investigators performed an economic evaluation of school district-level of Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System data from September 2013 to December 2019 to compare soda intake of high school students in Philadelphia to 7 other cities that did not have beverage taxes. A secondary analysis also compared changes in 100% juice and milk intake to examine potential substitutions for soda. The data included all high school students in grade 9 to 12 who attended school in districts that participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System from 2013 to 2019.

A total of 86,928 high school students with an average age of 15.8 years from Philadelphia and 7 other comparison cities were included in the investigation. Before the January 2017 start date for the tax, there was an average weekly intake of 5.4 servings of soda in Philadelphia and 4 servings in the other 7 cities. Two years after the implementation of the soda tax, it was linked to a reduction of 0.81 servings of soda per week (95% CI, −1.48 to −0.14 servings; P = .02). No major difference was seen in 100% juice or milk intake following the implementation of the tax, but the investigators did note that students in Philadelphia drank more juice than the other cities. A look at subgroups found that the tax was linked to a reduction of 1.13 weekly servings in Hispanic adolescents (95% CI, −2.04 to −0.23 servings; P = .01) and 1.2 servings per week in teenagers with obesity (95% CI, −2.33 to −0.13 servings; P = .03).

The investigators concluded that the soda tax in Philadelphia was linked to reduced consumption of soda by teenagers. These results indicate that soda taxes could be a tool to improve diet.

Reference

1. Edmondson E, Roberto C, Gregory E, Mitra N, Virudachalam S. Association of a sweetened beverage tax with soda consumption in high school students. JAMA Pediatr. October 18, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.3991