UIC to study sweetened beverage taxes in Illinois, California

The University of Illinois at Chicago will lead a $4.9 million study on the implementation of sweetened beverage taxes in Cook County, Illinois, and Oakland, California.

Consumption of these beverages is the largest contributor to added sugar intake in the American diet and is related to adverse health conditions like Type II diabetes and obesity, which effects approximately one-third of Americans and is considered a key contributor to non-communicable diseases globally.

The taxes are proposed as a policy instrument to reduce sugary drink consumption and improve population health.

Lisa Powell

Lisa Powell

Lisa Powell, distinguished professor and director of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health, heads the study, which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“While we already know that sugar intake impacts body weight and health outcomes, we need to carefully and comprehensively evaluate the beverage tax in Cook County and Oakland to understand its net effect on sugar intake,” said Powell, who is also director of the Illinois Prevention Research Center and a fellow of the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

In Cook County, the tax took effect on Aug. 2 and is applied to non-alcoholic beverages sweetened artificially or with sugar, including soda, sports and energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas and coffees, and some juices. The tax in Oakland began on July 1, but applies only to sugar sweetened beverages, not artificially sweetened drinks.

Powell and her colleagues will assess how the tax influences the consumption and sale of both taxed and non-taxed beverages, the consumption of food, and the estimated daily sugar intake of residents. Not only will the study look at these effects on health, it will also examine the amount of tax revenue generated, how the funds are used, and the impact of the tax on local employment.

The study will also evaluate the various factors that may underlie any observed impacts, such as pass-through to taxed and non-taxed beverage and food prices, cross-border shopping, and marketing and promotion efforts. Researchers will collect data at baseline and at follow-up, which will take place regularly for up to two years post-tax implementation.

The goal, Powell says, is to look at the taxes objectively and understand their impact at all levels—from potential health improvements to effects on the economy.

“This evaluation is intended to contribute to the development of a comprehensive evidence base on the potential effectiveness of beverage taxes to reduce sugary drink consumption and, importantly, overall sugar intake,” Powell said. “It will also identify potential unintended consequences, providing critical evidence on the potential need for policy refinements.”

Co-investigators on the study are Frank Chaloupka, Jamie Chriqui, Zeynep Isgor, Pierre Leger and Shannon Zenk, of UIC.

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