Boulder’s soda tax would extend lives, reduce diabetes and obesity, and avert millions in health costs, Harvard model projects

SEATTLE, WA – Boulder, CO’s proposed tax on sugary drinks would reduce consumption of health-harming beverages enough to prevent nearly 1,000 of cases of obesity and avert millions in healthcare costs over 10 years, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have concluded.

With funding from Healthy Food America, researchers for Harvard’s CHOICES project localized their national, peer reviewed model to examine the potential health impact of Boulder’s proposed sugary drink tax. The CHOICES researchers project that the tax of 2 cents per ounce would persuade many regular consumers of sugary drinks to shift to water or other, less harmful drinks.

As a result of that shift, the incidence of diabetes would drop by an estimated 10 percent when the tax reaches full effect after a few years. The model also estimates 940 fewer people would be burdened with obesity at the end of 2025 than without the tax.

Reducing the chronic diseases associated with excess sugar and weight gain would cut healthcare costs by $6.4 million over 10 years in comparison to taking no action. The net savings in obesity-related healthcare would be more than 40 times the cost to administer the tax, according to the model.

Boulder’s citizen-led initiative would raise as much as $3.8 million a year for programs designed to increase access to healthy foods, and other health programs for those most impacted by the diseases associated with sugary drinks. Communities across the country and world are adopting taxes on sugary drinks – as they have on tobacco – to raise revenue for social and health programs while at the same time discouraging overuse of products linked to obesity, diabetes and heart, liver and dental disease. The World Health Organization on Oct. 11 called for governments to tax sugary drinks as part of the global strategy to combat chronic disease and obesity.

“Our analysis looks beyond revenue and finds that this excise tax on sugary drinks can generate significant prevention of new cases of obesity, diabetes, improved quality adjusted life years and healthcare cost savings,” said lead investigator of the CHOICES Project, Dr. Steven Gortmaker, who also serves as the director of the Harvard Prevention Research Center and a professor of the practice of health sociology at the Chan School of Public Health. “It is our intent that these findings serve as a source of research-based information surrounding potential health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes.”

“In addition to the clear benefit of providing revenue to improve lives, this research shows that Boulder’s measure would also save lives and healthcare dollars,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, MD, MPH, executive director of Healthy Food America, a leading health policy think tank. “The greatest beneficiaries are likely to be low-income and communities of color who are disproportionately targeted both by the marketing of sugary drinks and the diseases associated with regular consumption of them,” he added.




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