ITHACA, N.Y.Amid an ongoing debate over taxing sugary drinks to fight the nation's obesity epidemic, new research published in the journal Preventive Medicine indicates soft drink manufacturers may not need to worry about decreased consumption caused by a soda tax. The recent study shows less than one-third of Americans surveyed support taxes on soft drinks or portion size restrictions.
While previous research shows most New Yorkers support the soda tax, this new study by media and health policy experts reveals only 22% of Americans surveyed support soda taxes, and 26% support portion size restrictions. Out of 1,319 U.S. adults who participated in the study, 65% did support calorie labeling, and 62% backed efforts to remove soft drinks from schools, although a 2011 report shows banning sugar-sweetened beverages in schools may not reduce consumption.
“I think these findings reflect public enthusiasm for regulation that maintains a value on consumer choice in the marketplace rather than government intervention, while tolerating more paternalism in restricting the choices available to children," said lead author Sarah Gollust, assistant professor in the division of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
The study is the first of its kind to assess the levels of public support for multiple policies to promote public health and prevent obesity through the reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. It was conducted in collaboration with Colleen Barry, associate professor in the department of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Jeff Niederdeppe, assistant professor of communication at Cornell University.
“Strategies to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages are a key component of public health promotion and obesity prevention, yet the introduction of many of these policies has been met with political controversy," the authors wrote in the study. “The results provide policymakers and advocates with insights about the political feasibility of policy approaches to address the prevalent consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages."
Advocates of reduced sugar consumption might also want to borrow a page from the tobacco opponents’ playbook, according to Niederdeppe, who has done research into the effectiveness of large-scale anti-tobacco media campaigns.
“Increasingly, health advocacy groups have focused attention on the behavior of the beverage industry, highlighting their marketing tactics aimed at young people and their heavily-funded efforts to oppose regulation," Niederdeppe said. "And similar to the patterns we’ve seen over the years with big tobacco companies, people with negative views of soda companies are in favor of stricter regulations on their products."
Niederdeppe added that parents have "not yet been mobilized" to support policy strategies that would change children’s beverage consumption.
The findings of a strong positive relationship between years of education and policy support may suggest rising recognition among higher socioeconomic status groups of the value of policy interventions to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, the study authors added.