Implementing a Soda Tax: Why the Messaging Matters

									Charlie Plain |
																			August 18, 2016
Associate Professor Sarah Gollust
Associate Professor Sarah Gollust

In an effort to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, there has been policy discussion — both in the United States and globally — about raising the prices of the drinks, including soda.

New research led by School of Public Health Associate Professor Sarah Gollust shows the rationale attached to an increase in the price of sugar-sweetened beverages could influence consumers’ interest in purchasing the drinks, but its effectiveness may depend on an individuals’ level of beverage consumption.

The study was recently published in Public Health Nutrition.

Many experts believe that the increased cost of the taxed product will reduce consumer demand for it. However, in their research, Gollust and her colleagues set out to determine how changing the way in which the price change is framed — such as a strategy to reduce obesity, as a way to raise revenue, or to protect children — would affect how consumers responded.

“We found that certain ways of describing a soda tax significantly influenced young adults’ reported intentions to purchase a soda,” says Gollust. “Justifying a tax by saying it will help reduce obesity, offset chronic health care costs, or protect children reduced respondents’ intentions of saying they would purchase soda, compared to a message that simply explained that the cost of soda was going up. In addition, justifying a tax for obesity prevention contributed to unfavorable perceptions of soda companies, but only among young people who did not regularly consume soda.”

While these preliminary findings are promising, Gollust notes that additional research should continue to evaluate the ways in which a policy focusing on reducing soda consumption will affect the public’s attitudes and behaviors, especially in real-world contexts. High consumption of sugary drinks remains an extensive source of empty calories in people’s diets, and overconsumption has been linked to negative health outcomes, including obesity, poor dental health, and chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Soda taxes are on the policy agenda worldwide because consumption of sugary drinks is so high, especially among youth and young adults,” says Gollust. “The message that policymakers and advocates attach to a soda tax – why it is important, what the tax will accomplish – matters, since this language can influence consumers regardless of whether the tax actually gets adopted.”

~ This story was adapted from an original article posted on AHC’s Health Talk

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