Harvard study finds sweetened drinks taxes lead to savings in health care costs and improvements to public health

SEATTLE, WA – Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have concluded that Seattle’s “proposed  sweetened drink excise tax will prevent thousands of cases of childhood and adult obesity, prevent new cases of diabetes, increase healthy life years and save more in future health care costs than it costs to implement.”

“Our analysis looks beyond revenue and finds that this excise tax on sweetened 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 sweetened beverage taxes.”

The Seattle proposal, $.0175 cents per ounce, is estimated to raise $24.7 million annually. Most importantly, the study focuses on the impact of the proposed tax on the health and wellness of Seattle residents. This peer-reviewed model, known as CHOICES, concluded that:

  • The tax of would lead many consumers to shift to water or other, less harmful drinks, so that sweetened drink consumption would drop by nearly 19 percent. (Berkeley, where a tax has been in effect since early 2015, saw a 21 percent reduction among low-income communities.)
  • Over a one-year period, once the tax reaches its full effect, the proposed sweetened drink tax would lead to a four percent reduction in diabetes incidence. Put another way, every year 105 fewer people won’t develop diabetes. According to CHOICES, consuming an 8.5 ounce sweetened beverage every day increases a person’s risk of diabetes by 18 percent.
  • By reducing consumption of sweetened drinks, the tax will prevent 3170 cases of obesity over ten years.
  • The tax will save Seattle $29 million over ten years, thanks to health care cost savings from lower rates of obesity and chronic diseases.

As it has in other cities across the country, the soda industry - which spends over $4 billion per year nationwide on marketing - is anticipated to invest significantly to protect sweetened drink profits in Seattle. Despite the well-documented damage that too much sweetened drinks have on a person’s health, the beverage industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars to target specific communities with pro-sweetened drink advertisements, especially focusing on children and teens and communities of color.


“If a  tax on sweetened drinks were adopted in Seattle, the city will have chosen to put public health above Big Soda recouping industry profits and investing in early learning, education and access to healthy food for low income people,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, executive director Healthy Food America and Clinical Professor of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Washington. “Unfortunately, the soda industry prioritizes its profits above people’s health and wellness and the person suffering the health problems associated with Big Soda’s products  could be you, your parent, your child or your friend.”

The World Health Organization has called for governments to tax sweetened drinks as part of the global strategy to combat chronic disease and obesity. As communities across the country struggle to support social and health programs to improve public health and address health and social inquities, many are seeing the benefit of taxing Big Soda and its unhealthy products that cause obesity, diabetes and heart, liver and dental disease. Seven cities and counties (Philadelphia, Cook County, IL, Boulder, CO, and Berkeley, Albany, Oakland and San Francisco, CA) have already passed sweetened drink taxes. 


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