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Study: Soda Taxes Don't Dent Obesity

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Small taxes on soda do little to reduce soft drink consumption or prevent childhood obesity, but larger levies probably would, according to new research.  The study is being released as a recent wave of proposals would raise soda taxes or create new ones on sugared beverages.  But they'll have to be a lot steeper than current taxes, which are generally 4 percent or less, says Roland Sturm, lead author of the new research. 

According to the researchers: 

  • The taxes made no real difference on overall soda consumption or on obesity for kids overall.
  • They did have a small effect on certain children -- especially those from families with an annual income of $25,000 or less.
  • Those children -- who drank about seven cans of soda a week, on average -- drank one less can because of the taxes.
  • However, if the taxes were more like 18 cents on the dollar, it would make a significant difference.

Most states exempt grocery food from sales taxes.  In recent years, candy and soft drinks have been increasingly targeted, either through a tax or removal of an existing sales tax exemption.  But most people don't want their soda taxed, according to the American Beverage Association, which represents soda manufacturers. 

Association officials noted that Maine voters last fall rejected a soda tax.  And in a press release last week, the organization pointed to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by Rasmussen Reports that found 56 percent of Americans are against taxes on candy and soda. 

The Rand study confirms that small taxes on soda don't reduce obesity, and offers no evidence that larger taxes would do any better, said Christopher Gindlesperger, spokesman for beverage association. 

"Taxes don't work.  What does work is balancing diet and exercise," he said. 

Source: Mike Stobbe, "Study: Small soda taxes don't dent obesity," Associated Press/Yahoo News, April 1, 2010. 

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