The Vote for Health: Is Berkeley’s New Soda Tax the First Step to Combating Obesity in America?
Voters in Berkeley made history last week when they voted to pass the nation’s first soda tax, which will add a 1¢ tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened drinks, like soda and juice, beginning in January.
The measure passed with an overwhelming 75 percent vote, which is particularly impressive considering the consistent failure of similar proposed soda taxes in the past, including in Richmond, California in 2012 and even in Illinois just earlier this year.
For proponents of the soda tax, the argument is that it may play an important role in reducing obesity in America. The obesity epidemic in the country has always been a topic of concern, gaining increased attention over the years. Statistics in recent months have demonstrated the severe extent to which American waistlines have increased in the past decade, suggesting that the issue has reached an unprecedented high point.
The theory is that higher prices for sodas and other sugary drinks will in turn reduce consumption by bringing sales down. It is a theory which has held true several times in the past, including in a 2012 study which found a 26 percent decline in soda sales at Brigham and Women’s Hospital cafeteria in Boston during a 5-phase intervention which included a 35 percent hike in soft drink prices.
Of course, there remains the clear question of whether or not a reduction in soft drink sales would actually lead to alleviation of the obesity epidemic in America. Critics note that while a soda tax may reduce Americans’ consumption of soda and other soft drink sales, it will not necessarily encourage them to steer clear of other high-calorie foods and beverages. This notion thus complicates the suggested causal relationship by which a reduction in soda sales would contribute to widespread weight loss.
While it may be difficult to predict the long-term consequences of the tax so early on, its passage has at least proven one thing at this point: a major shift in the American attitude as it pertains to large-scale efforts to address serious health issues in the country.
Moreover, this is a fact confirmed not only by Berkeley’s passage of the tax after repeated failed attempts to impose similar taxes in the past, but even by voting in some areas where the measure didn’t pass. In nearby San Francisco, for example, a similar tax did not get the necessary 2/3 vote it needed to pass, but did receive a majority vote with 55 percent nevertheless.
The American mentality is transforming in regards to health, and it is clear that Americans are ready to take initiative on the need for change. Whether or not the soda tax can be that change — only time will tell.
Do you think the soda tax will set a precedent which will be followed by other cities in the near future? Do you think it will play a role in reducing obesity? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi