THURSDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- Most U.S. adults aren't
sweet on the idea of soda and candy taxes, and many doubt the
bigger price tags would trim the national waistline.
That's the finding of a new
Harris Interactive/HealthDaypoll released Thursday. In the
online survey of more than 2,100 adults, respondents were opposed
to government taxes on sugary drinks and candy by a more than
Between 56 percent and 58 percent said no to such taxes, while
only 21 to 23 percent were in favor.
"This is a strong vote against the 'nanny state,'" said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.
"The idea of taxing calorie-rich candies and sodas may be popular with some public health advocates, who see them as major causes of the nation's obesity epidemic, but it is very unpopular with the public," Taylor said.
The poll results come at a time of rising debate over the
potential health impact of taxing "junk food." Many U.S. states do
have sales taxes on soda, but they are small -- and not aimed at
driving down Americans' thirst for sugary drinks, said Kelly
Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale University and
co-founder of the school's Rudd Center for Food Policy and
"Sales taxes were intentionally kept small so they wouldn't affect consumption," said Brownell, a long-time advocate of a bigger tax that would make consumers think twice about that sugary drink.
For several years, Brownell and his colleagues have pushed for a
penny-per-ounce excise tax on sweetened beverages (not just soda).
That would ultimately boost the cost of sweet drinks by about 20
percent. And unlike sales taxes, which consumers do not see until
they get to the cash register, excise taxes show up on the sticker
price -- when people are making the decision to buy or not.
In a 2011 study, Brownell's team estimated that a national
penny-per-ounce tax would cut Americans' sugary drink intake by
one-quarter. The researchers also projected that the tax could
generate $79 billion in revenue over five years.
A number of states and local governments have proposed such a
tax, but they've gone nowhere.
The proposals have popped up in states like Vermont and Texas,
big cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in smaller
communities. Last year, voters in two California cities, Richmond
and El Monte, rejected ballot initiatives that would have levied
The respondents in the
Harris Interactive/HealthDaypoll echoed those voters.
Besides disliking the taxes, many doubted the potential health
benefits -- 51 percent disagreed with the statement, "Sales taxes
on candies and sodas would help to reduce obesity." Only 26 percent
A bigger percentage seemed to have a philosophical opposition to
such taxes: Two-thirds agreed with the statement, "It should not be
the role of government to influence what we eat and drink to make
Justin Wilson, senior research analyst for the Center for
Consumer Freedom (CCF), argued that "people prefer incentives to
The Washington, D.C.-based CCF opposes soda taxes and other
"sin" taxes, saying there's no evidence they would actually help
curb the U.S. obesity problem -- and that no single food can be
pinpointed as a cause of obesity. The group gets funding from the
food industry and "individual consumers," according to its
Wilson said government "incentives" could include building more
sidewalks and "green spaces" so that Americans, especially kids,
can get outside and exercise.
"Creating more green spaces is a perfect role for government," he said.
Wilson was also skeptical that any funds from a soda tax would
go to obesity prevention or similar health programs, as advocates
like Brownell would like. "The idea that the money would be
earmarked like that is ridiculous, because that's not how
government works," Wilson said.
Lisa Powell, a professor of health policy and administration at
the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, said
there's "robust" evidence that higher prices on sugary drinks mean
In a recent research review, Powell and her colleagues found
that a 20 percent price hike -- roughly equivalent to the
penny-per-ounce tax proposal -- correlated with a 24 percent
decline in people's sugary drink intake, on average.
"Where I think more research is needed is on the net effect on body weight," Powell said. If people replace their sweet-drink calories with other, non-taxed drinks or food, then there could be little, if any, effect on weight.
Powell and Brownell both stressed that no single measure is the
answer to the nation's obesity problem. Powell said it's also
important to make healthy choices easier -- through, for example,
subsidies that help low-income Americans buy fresh fruits and
vegetables, and ensuring all households have clean, palatable tap
As for the idea that government shouldn't interfere with
people's diets, Powell noted that the food industry uses ads to
sway consumers -- and that kids are particularly vulnerable to
that. "It would be interesting to ask parents, 'Should food
companies be allowed to influence what your children eat and
drink?' and see how they respond," Powell said.
Harris Interactive/HealthDaypoll was conducted online within
the United States between March 28 and April 1, 2013, and it
included 2,132 adults aged 18 and over surveyed by Harris
Interactive. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education,
region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring
them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents'
propensity to be online.
Learn more about
sugary drinks and healthfrom the Harvard School
of Public Health.
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