California Soda Tax Would Save Hundreds Of Millions In Medical Costs, Study Finds

01/03/2014 05:23 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
JOEL SAGET via Getty Images

A proposed tax on sugary drinks in California could save hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs and reduce new cases of diabetes by tens of thousands, a University of California, San Francisco study found.

While a bill proposing a one-cent-per-ounce “soda tax” from state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) was shelved last May, he vowed to reintroduce the initiative on Jan. 6 when the legislature reconvenes.

"In my view it's not a question of whether, but a question of when," he said of the tax when his bill was first blocked.

While sugary beverage taxes have been controversial in the past -- a Field Poll last February found only 40 percent of California voters were in favor -- UCSF’s findings may garner more support for Monning’s bill.

Based on the prediction that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) would lead to a 10-20 percent drop in their consumption, researchers estimated a 1.8 to 3.4 percent drop in new cases of diabetes from 2013 to 2022. Those 12,000 to 23,000 fewer cases would save between $320 million and $620 million in medical costs.

The study also predicted a 0.5 to 1 percent drop in incident coronary heart disease cases and a 0.5 to 0.9 percent drop in total myocardial infarctions, yielding an additional $14 million to $27 million savings.

"We see a lot of the data that shows the adverse consequences of sugar-sweetened beverages,” Monning told the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “But what's notable is (the study) goes straight to the correlation between a sugar-sweetened beverage tax, and consumption and better health outcomes."

The benefits of the SSB tax are especially promising for California’s low-income and minority communities.

“The magnitude of the health benefits are projected to be greatest for African Americans, Mexican Americans and those with limited incomes, populations with the highest rates of diabetes and SSB consumption in California,” the study authors wrote. “These findings suggest that reductions in SSB consumption as might be achieved from proposed taxes could have a marked population-wide health benefit for California and have the additional benefit of reducing race/ethnic and income disparities in diabetes and heart disease.”

San Francisco, however, may move ahead with its own citywide soda tax. In October, San Francisco supervisor Scott Wiener introduced a two-cents-per-ounce tax that would add 24 cents to the cost of an average can of soda. Supervisor Eric Mar introduced a nearly identical bill the following month, and city legislators will boil the initiatives down to one bill for voters to consider on the November 2014 ballot.

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