Study says sugar taxes could prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease

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What if taxing sugary drinks meant lower rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes? That’s what a recent study by the American Heart Association found a link between.

Cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco, have already implemented taxes on sodas, the most popular brands of which contain over 50 grams of sugar per container.

According to the AHA study, which was published in the association’s journal, Circulation, a simulation model of different designs of taxes on sugary drinks indicated all tax designs would lead to significant health advantages and decrease health costs. Sugary drinks are tied to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers working on the study defined sugary drinks as sodas, juice drinks, sports drinks, pre-sweetened iced tea or coffee and electrolyte replacement drinks with 5 or more grams of added sugars per 12 ounces. Consumption of sugary drinks was taken from two, 24-hour dietary recalls per person. The drinks include added sugars content for each person.

Boston researchers created a nationally representative microsimulation model to test three types of taxation on sugary drinks. One was a flat “volume tax” by drink volume, which is $0.01 per ounce. This is the only kind of tax U.S. cities have used so far. Another is a “tiered sugar content tax” by three levels of sugar content. It ranges from $0.00 for under 5 grams of added sugars per 8 ounces to $0.02 per ounce of added sugars for over 20 grams of added sugars per 8 ounces. The last one is a “fixed sugar content tax” by absolute sugar content, which is $0.01 per teaspoon of added sugars — the number of ounces notwithstanding.

The simulation showed all three tax structures would create tax revenue, decrease the cost of health care and avert cardiovascular disease events and diabetes cases. The largest cost savings and health advantages were found in from tiered tax.

Researchers noted the tax designs could be worthwhile public health policy tools that could lead to a decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks and end up improving overall health and well-being.

By the numbers, researchers found a volume-based tax could avert 850,000 cardiovascular (CVD) events and prevent 269,000 cases of diabetes; a tiered tax could avert 1.67 million (CVD) events and stop 531,000 diabetes cases; an absolute tax could prevent 1.8 million CVD events and halt 550,000 diabetes cases.

A volume-based tax simulation was found to generate the most federal tax revenue at $80.4 billion in federal tax revenue and an absolute tax simulation could gain 5 million quality-adjusted life years across the population and save $105 billion in net health care costs. Those same savings were reflected by the tiered tax simulation.

“Overwhelming evidence confirms that food prices have a big impact on purchasing decisions. Taxing sugary drinks influences consumer choices, reducing consumption,” Yujin Lee, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston and the co-lead study author said in a press release. “U.S. cities have introduced volume taxes on sugary drinks. But our findings suggest that a tiered fixed sugar content tax would be best, reducing consumer intakes while also encouraging manufacturer reformulations to reduce the sugar content of their products.”

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