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USA: a Tax on Sugar-sweetened Beverages Reduced Consumption

Berkeley, California became the first state to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, resulting in a 21% decrease in consumption

Taken from the campaign to vote for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley, California.

Sugar tax: In November 2014, a special tax on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in the city of Berkeley, California, came into effect. Tax legislators explained they were trying to deal with the negative effects of excessive sugar consumption that lead to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. The objective of the tax and the main criterion for its success was defined as a relative change in consumption: buying bottled water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages because the tax lead to higher prices of the latter – water was comparatively cheaper.

Water wars

Lobbyists of the beverage industry opposed the tax claiming it would have a negative effect on weaker populations. However, data showed that the tax achieved its goal:

  • Bottled water consumption increased by 63%
  • Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages decreased by 21%

The results recorded in Berkeley are particularly important, given that it is a relatively small city (approximately 116,000 residents) with a low socioeconomic status population. It was also the first time in US history that elected officials took a bold step to promote the health of the nation as opposed to the interests of the sugar, processed food and beverage industry giants, as they had done previously.

43% of the daily sugar consumption in Western countries originates from purchased sugar-sweetened beverages. And although we refer to beverages as nutritionally "harmless", these products provide the body with high quantities of sugar and energy, without causing a sense of satiety that  follows eating food. And how much sugar do they actually contain? A bottle of soda (500 ml) contains 12 teaspoons of sugar – 1.5 times more than the recommended daily sugar intake for men and twice as that for women. A bottle of natural juice contains 9 teaspoons of sugar and there are 8 teaspoons in a can. Store-bought flavored water has a more delicate flavor compared to sugar-sweetened beverages, but even they contain quite a bit of sugar: 4 teaspoons in a bottle.

After Berkeley, the pioneer, San Francisco, Albany, Oakland, Cook County in Illinois, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania joined the initiative. The beverage companies, financially affected by the move, are reviewing their moves and they do consider rebranding, changing ingredients and even making a complete turnaround: to sell other beverages that do not contain sugar or at least contain less sugar. They are experiencing a crisis that some refer to as the "new tobacco crisis," because similarly to what happened with cigarettes, there is a growing awareness of the long-term effects of sugar-sweetened beverages.

כמויות הסוכר המסתתרות במשקאות הממותקים

How much sugar is hidden in sugar-sweetened beverages


Soft Drinks

Heavy Toll

Glass of water                                                       0 teaspoons of sugar

Flavored water – 1 bottle / 500 ml                          4 teaspoons of sugar

Nectar – 1 can / 330 ml                                         8 teaspoons of sugar

100% natural juice – bottle / 400 ml                       9 teaspoons of sugar

Carbonated soft drink –1 bottle / 500 ml                12 teaspoons of sugar


Further reading

The study of the impact of the Berkeley Excise Tax on sugar-sweetened beverage consumption
Another study of the impact of the Excise Tax on sugar-sweetened beverage consumption
Berkeley soda tax campaign website