A staggering 40% of people were less likely to drink a sugary soft drink and 64% less likely to drink an energy drink after a sugar tax was introduced, new research shows.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study, conducted in Philadelphia, measured the effects of a 1.5 cent tax per 30g of sugary beverage, and found that after two months, surveyed consumers ditched soft drink in large numbers and also became 58% more likely to drink bottled water every day.
However, the report concludes that future studies are needed to evaluate longer-term impact of the tax on sugared beverage consumption and substitutions.
The compelling results come as the debate over a sugar tax continues in Australia – one of the 10 highest soft drink consuming countries in the world per capita.
A number of lobby groups have renewed calls for a similar tax on sugar in Australia to combat rising levels of obesity.
A spokesperson for the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said: “The findings are welcome, and add to the evidence that a tax on sugar sweetened beverages can influence consumption patterns.”
“(Tackling) obesity should be a national priority.” - AMA
However, the powerful Australian Beverages Council responded to renewed calls for a sugar tax by questioning the evidence that a tax would reduce consumption.
“While (we) have not reviewed that particular piece of research…the evidence is clear; a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks does not yield the results that are being heralded.”
“Health groups promulgating a discriminatory and regressive tax as a band-aid solution to the nation’s burgeoning waistlines completely miss the point and are not doing anyone any good,” a council spokesman said.
A recent report from Grattan Institute estimated obesity costs taxpayers more than $5 billion a year in healthcare, welfare and lost taxes, and concluded that a sugar tax would raise $500 million a year and would result in 1.2 additional years of healthy life per 100 Australians.
While 28 countries have put a health levy on sugary drinks, both sides of Australian politics have maintained that such a tax here is off the table.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King had not responded to questions at the time of publication.
“It is unfortunate that the Government and the Australian Beverages Council dismiss the growing evidence around the benefits of a tax on sugar sweetened beverages in Australia,” the AMA said.
While a sugar tax is a bitterly contested policy in this country, both the AMA and the Beverages Council agree that a “broad suite of measures that aims to improve nutrition, increase physical activity” and “support individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles” will address obesity effectively.