Raising soda prices reduces consumption better than educating the public

Sunday, October 17, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: soda prices, consumption, health news

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(NaturalNews) Raising soda prices appears to reduce consumption significantly, but nutrition education campaigns have little impact, according to a study conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Growing concern over the nation's obesity epidemic has led to suggestions among U.S. lawmakers and policy analysts that a tax on sugary beverages might function to reduce consumption, much as alcohol and cigarette taxes have been shown to reduce consumption of those products.

In the new study, researchers artificially modified prices on sweetened soda at the cafeteria of Brigham and Women's Hospital while holding them constant at the cafeteria of neighboring Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

In the first part of the experiment, they raised the price of a 20-ounce bottle of sweetened soda from $1.30 to $1.75, while leaving the prices of diet soda and fruit drinks unchanged. Sales of sweetened drinks decreased by 26 percent, and diet soda sales correspondingly increased 20 percent. Sales of fruit drinks did not change.

"It could be people just aren't responding to the health message or it could be we need better health messages," researcher Jason Block said.

The researchers then restored prices to their original levels for a "washout period," then initiated an educational campaign consisting of signs promoting soda consumption as a way to lose weight. Consumption of soda showed no change in response. Researchers then once again increased prices of sugary sodas again, which led to an 18 percent drop in sales.

No changes in consumption were observed at the cafeteria where prices were left unchanged. This suggests that no external forces were responsible for the changes in consumption at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Block noted that to confirm the applicability of the study's findings for policy making, the experiments should be repeated for different populations of consumers.

"We need to know what works," Block said.

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