Soda Taxes

Did Soda Tax Proposals Cause a Decline in Soda Consumption That Started Years Earlier?

Probably not, but The New York Times is eager to credit politicians.



New York Times health reporter Margot Sanger-Katz celebrates declining consumption of sugar-sweetened soda, which she calls "the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade." As someone who never drinks full-calorie soda or buys it for my family, I tend to agree that's a positive trend. But as someone who subscribes to the old-fashioned notion that causes precede their effects, I find Sanger-Katz's explanation of this trend—public awareness raised by soda tax supporters such as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter—more than a little implausible.

Sanger-Katz's thesis is that even when anti-soda agitators fail to win approval of special levies on sugary drinks (as Nutter did), "they have accomplished something larger" because "in the course of the fight, they have reminded people that soda is not a very healthy product" and "fundamentally changed the way Americans think about soda." But the data she cites do not really support that theory.

"Over the last 20 years," Sanger-Katz reports, "sales of full-calorie soda in the United States have plummeted by more than 25 percent." In other words, the downward trend began more than a decade before the soda tax debates in New York state (2009), Washington state (2010), and Philadelphia (2010). Americans began drinking less soda nearly two decades before Berkeley approved a soda tax and San Francisco rejected one, both of which happened last year.

Sanger-Katz presents data from Philadelphia as the strongest evidence that politicians should get credit for reductions in soda consumption:

The change is happening faster in Philadelphia than in the country as a whole. Daily soda consumption among teenagers, a group closely tracked by federal researchers, dropped sharply—by 24 percent—from 2007 to 2013, compared with about 20 percent for the country. Last month, the city Department of Public Health reported a sustained decline in childhood obesity over the last seven years.

Those reductions are not accidents. The soda tax didn't pass. But the debate about it, along with a series of related city policies, helped discourage people from drinking soda.

Philadelphia Department of Public Health

That assertion seems overconfident to me, since the downward trends in soda drinking and obesity cited by Sanger-Katz began before Nutter first proposed a soda tax and before the city launched an ad campaign that she also credits with reducing consumption of sugary drinks. Although it's possible that Nutter's efforts accelerated a pre-existing trend, it does not look that way. The prevalence of daily soda consumption by Philadelphia teenagers, as measured by the CDC's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (which is conducted every two years), fell by 10 percent between 2007 and 2009, by 11 percent between 2009 and 2011, and by 5 percent between 2011 and 2013. If Nutter gets credit for the slightly bigger drop between 2009 and 2011 (a period that includes his two soda tax proposals), does he also get the blame for the much smaller drop between 2011 and 2013 (a period that includes the ad campaign)?

This is not the first time that Sanger-Katz has jumped to conclusions about the impact of government interventions on dietary trends. Last July she suggested that a national decline in calorie consumption that began in 2003 could be explained by policies adopted years later, including Berkeley's 2014 soda tax and federal menu labeling requirements that have not taken effect yet. Maybe Nutter and like-minded politicians reached back in time to the late 1990s and persuaded Americans to drink less soda. But given what we know about causality, it seems more likely that politicians' anti-soda activism and the drop in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages both reflect broader social trends.

NEXT: Expecting Scientifically Sound Nutritional Guidance from the Feds? Fat Chance.

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  1. I consider anything lighter then a port or stout a ‘soft’ drink.

    1. I just jusr distinguish between “alcohol” and “not alcohol”. Some alcoholic beverages requires more ingestion to be useful than others.

      1. Christ – spelling like a Trumpette this morning.

        *BIG swig of Mountain Dew*

        1. *Diet* Mountain Dew?

          1. Diet Double Dew. Half the caffeine and sugar of regular Double Dew. Dew the math!

          2. No – Full Octane. As God intended.

  2. TL;DR no one knows but everyone will say whatever the hell they want about it.

  3. OT: Your early Trump news: Politico implies that Trump supporters are dummies. Kant spel gud.


    1. Funny because Coulter was just saying how much smarter Trump is compared to all the hayseeds that didn’t attend a “top” school like Wharton.

  4. Maybe Nutter can turn those supposedly successful efforts toward reducing the number of assholes in Filthadelphia.

    1. Maybe if they passed the right, common-sense laws, young males would stop being mass murderers.

      Banning the Rebel Flag? was a good start.


      1. “in the course of the fight, they have reminded people that soda guns is not a very healthy product”

        Derped TFY

    2. Never happen. Despite how it may seem sometime we’ll never want the Eagles to leave.

      1. News flash: It’s not the Eagles, it’s their fans. And the Phillies fans and the Cryers fans. And everyone else. Earth to Susan. (I might try bringing that back; I haven’t decided.)

        1. lol. Since the loss of Veterans Stadium and the 700 level, fans have gotten nicer and much more boring – even if it did make non-Philly people say “white trash” when Philadelphians talk about local color.

    3. Not possible. That would require nuking the city from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.

  5. Shouldn’t this be called a Pop Tax?
    -1/3 of Americans

    You mean a Coke Tax
    -another 1/3 of Americans

    1. “Pop!” goes the weasel.

    2. It’s pop. Coke is pop but pop is not necessarily coke. Soda is what wasp women dilute their liquor with.

      1. It’s how they get tight.

      2. No, it’s coke. Pop is a type of play action pass(faking inside veer) in football.

  6. I don’t feel like rfa, but are they taking into account the gajillions of different beverage options available now? I noticed the other day that the soda selection at the convenience store is getting smaller all the time, replaced by dozens of energy drinks, protein shakes, etc. Add in the coffee drinks (milkshakes) at Starbucks and I suspect the kids are consuming just as much sugar, just not in soda form.

    1. ^this…energy drinks and more options seem more likely trend inducers.

    2. Yeah, I was going to ask what they replaced soda with. Funny how that was left out.

    3. The decline in full-calorie soda consumption goes back to the early 1990s, and the trend has been driven by demographic changes (the fastest growing population being the “Old”), as well as a lot of replacement/alternatives appearing in the market during that same period (bottled water being the most significant, but also ‘non-carb juice drinks’ and teas – see: Snapple, and its offshoots)

      There are some other things the industry did which helped accelerate core-category declines with the wider population, but that’s a different story.

      The fucking taxes have basically nothing to do with it. Nor do any of their nannying/nagging campaigns. 95% of people pay no attention to that sort of thing.

  7. “Sanger-Katz’s thesis is that even when anti-soda agitators fail to win approval of special levies on sugary drinks (as Nutter did), “they have accomplished something larger” because “in the course of the fight, they have reminded people that soda is not a very healthy product” and “fundamentally changed the way Americans think about soda.”

    Go fuck yourself. I know I’m not being helpful or intellectual but…go fuck yourself.

    And who’s the dude with the smug look? Is that Nutter?

    1. Hello, Rufus. Yes, that is Nutter.

  8. The push to end cigarette smoking has obviously made everyone healthier, so I am sure our bettors know what they are doing.

    1. They’re gambling with our health.

  9. If they’d use that soda pop tax to fund abortions, then they’d have something.

    *thinks of Florida Man, waves tiny American flag*

    1. How about a soda that induces miscarriage? Mifeprisoda, The Uterus Refresher.

        1. Only if you carefully spray it back in the bottle and save it for SIV’s dinner.

  10. Is Margot short for Margaret? If so, we all better start drinking soda.

    1. She went to Yale and then Columbia’s journalism school, so you better watch yourself.

      1. But how does she look in a wet t-shirt?

    2. Peggy is short for Margaret. Go figure.

      1. I know. That’s my mom’s name.

        1. That’s not what she told me.


          1. That’s on you man:) lol

  11. The other broader trend it reveals is politicians’ intentionally hijacking social trends to get credit for them. “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

  12. Society leads and the state follows.

  13. First of all, it’s called pop. Secondly, I started drinking only water for the past three or so years because of my renal issues WHICH ARE NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Personally, I think soda bottles should come with an automatic BMI calculator. Throw some hard science in the fatties’ fat faces.

    1. I thought you were just trying to protect your precious bodily fluids?

      1. +1 deny them his essence.

  14. The New York Times is eager to credit politicians.

    When are they ever not? Everything “good” (according to the progtard’s definition of good) that has ever happened is because of politicians and/ or government. Everything bad is because of MARKIT FAILYURE and/ or KKKOCHPORSHUNZ.

  15. A wise man once said, if you see a parade going down the street and you run up in front of it, they’re not actually following you.

  16. Did Soda Tax Proposals Cause a Decline in Soda Consumption That Started Years Earlier?

    I’d be obliged to point out that increased sales taxes have reduced consumer spending.

    I’d be obliged to point out that increased property taxes and increased mortgage regulation/closing costs have decreased house purchases.

  17. The trend was driven by technology. The introduction of acesulfame allowed for artificially sweetened soda not to deteriorate into crap in a month on the shelf.

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