Can Sugary Beverage Taxes Improve Public Health?

Nov. 29, 2022

Download Transcript

This episode of The Princeton Pulse Podcast explores the effectiveness of levies on sugar-sweetened beverages, comparing experiences from South Africa and Philadelphia. Sometimes called “soda taxes” or “sugar taxes,” they are used as a policy tool to address rising rates of obesity and other non-communicable diseases, and the related social and economic costs.

Studies show that drinking too much sugar contributes to obesity and increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other serious illnesses. With that evidence in mind, more than 45 countries around the world have implemented sugary beverage taxes, on a national or subnational level. The theory behind these excise taxes is to reduce demand for the beverages, promoting healthier choices and ultimately, better health. At the same time, the levies can generate revenue to support other aspects of community health and wellbeing.

Do these taxes actually work in terms of making people healthier? Can a regressive tax be progressive in its design and impact? Host Heather Howard, a professor at Princeton University and former New Jersey Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, discusses these issues with two guests who were instrumental in the adoption of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes: Dr. Karen Hofman, a pediatrician and research professor at the University of Witwatersrand, who helped South Africa become the first Sub-Saharan African country to implement this kind of tax; and Dwayne Wharton, a health equity advocate behind Philadelphia’s beverage tax.

Together, they explore lessons learned from public health interventions in multiple jurisdictions – including critical policy design questions, equity considerations, and the role of research in policy development.

Learn more about Dr. Hofman’s work:

Study: Evidence That a Tax on Sugar Sweetened Beverages Reduces the Obesity Rate: A Meta-Analysis

Daily Maverick: Karen Hofman, the professor leading the fight for healthy eating choices

Read an Opinion piece by Dwayne Wharton:

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Opinion | Tax on sugary beverages is a good thingImage removed.

The Princeton Pulse Podcast is a production of Princeton University's Center for Health and Wellbeing (CHW). The show is hosted by Heather Howard, a professor at Princeton University and former New Jersey Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, and produced by Aimee Bronfeld, with support from Eden Teshome, Dan Quiyu, and Casey West. You can subscribe to The Princeton Pulse Podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you enjoy your favorite podcasts.

Heather Howard, Dwayne Wharton and Dr. Karen Hofman

Professor Heather Howard (left) with Dwayne Wharton and Dr. Karen Hofman