UW researcher says soda tax does little to decrease obesity - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW researcher says soda tax does little to decrease obesity

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MADISON (WKOW) -- According to new research at UW-Madison, extra sales taxes on soda may not do anything to improve people's health.

Health economist Jason Fletcher, with the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison, David Frisvold, with the University of Iowa's Economics Department, and Nathan Tefft, with the University of Washington's School of Public Health, published their findings online in the journal Health Economics in March.

"Some older studies suggest taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages will reduce obesity by 20 percent rely on household data instead of individual consumption patterns, and they assume that individuals don't replace the calories in the soda with calories from another source," Fletcher said. "In contrast, our study found that increases in soft drink tax rates do correlate to less soda consumption, but not a reduction in calorie intake."

In one of their studies they looked at National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys data to estimate effects on reported consumption and caloric intake of soda and other beverages. They also measured height and weight for a nationally representative sample of adults between 1989 and 2006.

"This evidence demonstrates that large increases in soft drink taxes are unlikely to reduce total caloric intake," Fletcher said. "The impact of soft drink taxes on the body mass index is small in magnitude and not statistically significant."

In a second study they looked at Ohio and Arkansas in the early 1990's because both states substantially increased soda taxes. By comparing weight outcomes in those two states to outcomes in control groups drawn from other states, they found the apparent effects of a soda tax depend on which control group they used.

Fletcher says although the tax appears to reduce body mass index and obesity prevalence in Arkansas when compared with states with no tax change, the tax increased body mass index in Ohio.

"Our results cast serious doubt on the assumptions that proponents of large soda taxes make about the effects on population weight," Fletcher said. "Given that people substitute other calories when they give up soda, these new results suggest we need fundamental changes to policies that make large soda taxes a key element in the fight to reduce overall obesity rates."

Gordon Severson will have more on this research on 27 News at 5 & 6.

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