Raising revenue, cutting costs, saving lives

The benefits of sugary drink taxes in America’s major cities


Executive summary

As of November, 2016, six U.S. cities and one urban county have adopted soda taxes as a way to raise revenue for important community priorities while encouraging residents to shift away from sugary drinks that contribute to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health issues. In the process they are saving tens of millions in health care costs.

But how great an impact can a city-by-city approach have on the nation’s health? Substantial, as this report will show. Healthy Food America (HFA) asked researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health to use their evidence-based, peer-reviewed computer model to evaluate the impact should 15 more of the nation’s largest cities (with legal authority to do so) adopt a sugary drinks tax of one cent per ounce. Here’s what they found (see their full brief here):

  • With a population of 15.3 million people in the 15 cities, the tax would cut diabetes rates by an average 6 percent and prevent nearly 115,000 of cases of obesity;
  • As a result, the nation would avoid $759 million in health care costs over ten years, 3,683 premature deaths would be averted and tens of thousands of people would live longer lives with less illness;
  • All while raising $600 million a year for community priorities, from initiatives to prevent chronic disease to promoting access to healthy food to providing universal pre-kindergarten and improving schools and recreation centers.


The Harvard researchers also modelled the potential benefits from sugary drink taxes in the six jurisdictions that adopted them this year – San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, CA; Boulder, CO; Cook County, IL; and Philadelphia, PA. Adding the projected health gains for these six places with a combined population of 8.2 million to those of the 15 cities above, we would see:

  • 23.5 million people benefit.
  • Health care savings of well over $1.2 billion over ten years,
  • Nearly $1 billion a year in revenue to help prevent disease and improve life chances for people of all backgrounds,
  • 3,683 premature deaths averted,
  • Declining diabetes rates, 173,220 fewer cases of obesity, and longer lives, unburdened by preventable disease, for tens of thousands of Americans.







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