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Sugary drink sales drop 51% in Philadelphia after 'soda tax'

By Danielle Haynes
Sugary drink sales drop 51% in Philadelphia after 'soda tax'
The 51 percent drop in sales in Philadelphia were partially offset by an increase in sales in border towns. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI

May 14 (UPI) -- A tax on sugary drinks that Philadelphia implemented in 2017 resulted in a 51 percent drop in sales, though that figure was partially offset by a rise in sales in neighboring towns, a study published Tuesday indicates.

Philadelphia introduced the tax -- 1.5 cents per ounce -- on Jan. 1, 2017, as a way to reduce sugar consumption. The funds generated by the tax were earmarked to fight poverty through education, job training and youth program initiatives.

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In the year after the tax started, the effort seemed to work. Sugary drink sales in 2017 were 51 percent lower than they were in 2016, a drop of 1.3 billion ounces.

This was partially offset by an increase in beverage sales in Zip codes bordering Philadelphia, where sales rose by 24.4 percent or 308.2 million ounces. The net effect was a 38 percent decrease in sales.

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The findings of the study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It reflects similar findings in an April 2018 study that found that Philadelphians are about 40 percent less likely than residents of three nearby cities to have a soda every day after the tax's implementation.

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In that study, residents were 58 percent more likely to drink water every day after the tax.

Christina Roberto, an assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author on the study, called the results "great news for the well-being of the people of Philly."

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"Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the most effective policy strategies to reduce the purchase of these unhealthy drinks," she said. "It is a public health no-brainer and a policy win-win.

"It's likely to improve the long-term health of Philadelphians, while generating revenue for education programs in the city of Philadelphia."

Critics of the tax call it government overreach and say cutting sugar consumption is better left to beverage companies.

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