Don’t believe the myths – taxing sugary drinks makes us drink less of it

In recent years, the debate surrounding the taxation of sugary drinks has intensified. Advocates argue that such taxes can help combat rising rates of obesity and related health issues, while opponents often cite concerns about consumer choice and economic impact. Central to this debate are various myths and misconceptions about the effectiveness of such taxes in reducing consumption. This essay aims to debunk these myths and provide evidence supporting the notion that taxing sugary drinks does indeed lead to decreased consumption.

Myth 1: Taxing sugary drinks does not significantly reduce consumption.

One common misconception is that taxing sugary drinks has little impact on consumer behavior. However, numerous studies have demonstrated otherwise. For instance, research conducted in Berkeley, California, following the implementation of a sugary drink tax, found that consumption of these beverages decreased by 21% among low-income residents. Similarly, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed data from multiple cities and countries and concluded that sugary drink taxes are associated with reductions in consumption, particularly among low-income individuals who are more sensitive to price changes.

Myth 2: Consumers simply switch to other unhealthy beverages.

Another argument against sugary drink taxes is the belief that consumers will merely substitute taxed beverages with other unhealthy options, thereby negating any potential health benefits. While some level of substitution may occur, research suggests that the overall impact on total calorie intake remains beneficial. A study published in Health Affairs examined the effects of Mexico’s sugary drink tax and found that while consumption of taxed beverages decreased, there was no significant increase in the consumption of untaxed alternatives. Additionally, evidence from other countries, such as France and Hungary, supports the notion that taxing sugary drinks leads to a net reduction in calorie intake without significant substitution effects.

Myth 3: Sugary drink taxes disproportionately burden low-income individuals.

Critics of sugary drink taxes often argue that they place an unfair financial burden on low-income consumers who may already struggle to afford basic necessities. However, research suggests that the health benefits of reduced consumption outweigh any potential economic concerns. A systematic review published in PLOS Medicine concluded that while low-income households may experience a slightly higher financial burden relative to their income, they also stand to gain the most in terms of health benefits from reduced sugar consumption. Furthermore, revenue generated from sugary drink taxes can be used to fund health initiatives or subsidize healthy food options, thereby mitigating any regressive effects on low-income populations.

Myth 4: Sugary drink taxes are ineffective at reducing obesity rates.

Some critics argue that sugary drink taxes are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on obesity rates, given the complex nature of obesity and the multitude of factors influencing dietary choices. While it is true that no single intervention can solve the obesity epidemic, sugary drink taxes can play a crucial role as part of a comprehensive strategy. A study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology estimated that a 10% tax on sugary drinks could lead to a reduction in obesity prevalence ranging from 0.6% to 1.7% in various European countries. Moreover, modeling studies suggest that even modest reductions in sugary drink consumption can translate into significant public health benefits over the long term.


In conclusion, the evidence overwhelmingly refutes the myths surrounding the effectiveness of taxing sugary drinks. Contrary to common misconceptions, such taxes have been shown to significantly reduce consumption, without leading to substantial substitution effects or disproportionately burdening low-income individuals. While sugary drink taxes may not be a panacea for the obesity epidemic, they represent a critical component of a multifaceted approach to promoting healthier dietary habits and combating related health issues. By debunking these myths and embracing evidence-based policies, policymakers can take meaningful steps towards improving public health and reducing the burden of obesity-related diseases in our communities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *