Chicago’s Short-Lived Beverage Tax: Reduced Consumption and Elevated Public Health Fund

Key Takeaways:

  • The brief lifespan of Chicago’s soda tax led to a surprising 21% reduction in the volume of sodas sold and gathered almost $62 million in tax, which contributed to the public health funding.
  • Despite the positive impact, potential tax evasion strategies such as shopping across borders and public opposition led to the revocation of the tax.
  • Sugar-laden beverages are associated with numerous health issues, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart and kidney disease, tooth decay, and even gout.
  • Reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption might help lessen obesity and type 2 diabetes rates, although more data needs to be collected.
  • The tax on sugary drinks, while seen as a burden for lower-income individuals, could have progressive health benefits for the same group as it would potentially decrease consumption.

The brief lifespan of Chicago’s soda tax did not deter its effects on the magnitude of sugar-sweetened beverages consumption. This enactment not only lessened the intake of unhealthy drinks but also played a significant role in enhancing public health funding.

The impact of the soda tax

Between August and November 2017, an interesting occurrence was noted in Cook County. During the time the soda tax was operational, the volume of sodas sold reduced by a surprising 21%, and the tax gathered almost $62 million. Of the grand total, approximately $17 million was funneled into a county health fund.

The primary investigator, Lisa Powell, who also serves as the health policy and administration director at the University of Illinois, Chicago’s School of Public Health, suggested that “sweetened beverage taxes may prove to be successful in reducing the consumption of the same”.

However, she also indicated that people might resort to tax evasion strategies such as shopping across borders, a move that would lessen the tax’s impact.

The soda tax saga

The soda tax in Cook County involved a levy of 1 cent per ounce on sodas and other drinks laced with sugar. However, after barely two months, both the public’s opposition and extensive lobbying by the American Beverage Association pressured the board of Cook County commissioners into revoking the tax.

Health Implications of Sugary Beverages

Substantial research has shown a convincing connection between consuming sugar-laden beverages and a tiresome list of diseases, namely type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart and kidney disease, tooth decay, and even gout. Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist stationed at the New York University Medical Center, voiced her concern, “These beverages taste good but are calorie-heavy monsters devoid of any discernible nutritional value, do we really want to compromise our health or that of our children over these drinks?”

Effect of Reduced Sugary Beverage Consumption on Obesity

The jury is still out on whether cutting back on sugar-sweetened beverages will influence the obesity epidemic and its resulting health issues. Heller warns that these conditions take years to develop, and therefore, it might also take an extended period to assess the effects of such a beverage tax. Although less consumption could help lessen obesity and common chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes’s rates, enough data on this topic has yet to be collected.

In their research, Powell and her team utilized sales data from supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores, and other outlets within Cook County for their study. They compared this data with that from St. Louis City and County, Mo., where no tax exists.

Public Reception and Response to Sugary Drinks Tax

In opposition to taxing sugar-filled drinks are claims that not only is the tax an example of the “nanny state” trying to limit choices, but also it’s a burden that most detrimentally affects those of lower income.

Addressing this, Powell stated, “Lower-income individuals are more frequent consumers of sugary beverages and disproportionately bear more health-related issues associated with consuming these drinks. Lower-income consumers are more responsive to price escalations and will decrease sugar drink consumption to a higher degree than those with higher income.”

She also argued that lower-income consumers stand to gain more substantial health benefits from reduced consumption. From this outlook, she reasons that although the tax may display economic regression, it is progressive regarding health.

Despite the ongoing debate, no present-day state imposes a tax on sugary-sweetened beverages. However, various cities like Boulder, Colo., Philadelphia, Seattle and four Californian cities: Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco do apply this tax.

Healthier Alternatives

If you have a taste for bubbly drinks, give seltzer a try. “Choose plain or flavored seltzers or add a few tablespoons of 100% juice or an herbal tea for flavor. Water, tea, and unsweetened plant-based milks are also good options,” suggested Heller.

Learn More

Expand your knowledge about sugary drinks by visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jenna A. Fletcher

Greetings from the heart of holistic health! I’m Jenna, originally hailing from the scenic landscapes of Canada and now sharing my unique blend of expertise with the global community. My foundation in psychotherapy has given me profound insights into the intricacies of the mind-body connection.I passionately believe in the power of a holistic lifestyle, especially when paired with the transformative benefits of plant-based living. Nourishing ourselves goes beyond just the physical; it’s an intricate dance of mental, emotional, and environmental well-being. My writings here aim to provide a comprehensive look at how a plant-centric lifestyle can uplift and revitalize every facet of our existence.With each article, I hope to guide, inspire, and enlighten readers on the holistic benefits of plant-based living, drawing connections between our diet, our minds, and the world around us. Join me as we delve into this green journey, weaving ancient wisdom with modern insights for a balanced, vibrant life.
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