Baltimore Sun

Bottle tax could help fight obesity, study says

At the same time Baltimore City Council was voting down the controversial bottle tax , out comes a study that confirms sales would drop -- but it also says making sugary sodas a little more expensive could mean a dip in the nation's alarmingly high obesity rate.

According to a study in the June 17 American Journal of Public Health, soft drinks are the nation's biggest contributor to caloric intake, accounting for 7 percent of all calories consumed each day from 1999 to 2001. That's up from 2.8 percent from 1977 throught 1978.


The study set out to see just how much consumption would go down as the price went up. Researchers from Harvard set up shop in hospital cafeterias in Boston. They increased the price by 35 percent on regular soft drinks. Sales dropped by 26 percent. They dropped another 18 percent during a time when researchers initiated an effort to educate consumers about the ill effects of the drinks.

They found education had no independent effect on sales. It was all price.


The researchers concluded that price increases may be an effective means to cut consumption of  potentially harmful beverages.

Public health officials have believed this for a while, and have called for higher taxes on sodas. There have even been other studies that have had similar results -- on snake foods and on cigarettes.

And there have also been studies on the effects of sugary soda on health. This study cited, for example, a Nurses' Health Study on women who increased the number of soft drinks they consumed from one or fewer a week to one or more a day. The women gained a mean of 10 pounds over 4 years and increased their risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent.

City Council members still could change their votes on the bottle tax. Should they? Should government seek to influence public health through taxation?

Associated Press photo