For millions of Americans, soda is their drink of choice, despite the link to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic health conditions. Public health officials hope that laws and other restrictions can help people break the soda habit. Evidence seems to indicate these officials are right.
University Decides “It’s Not Right” to Profit Off Soda
Last year, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), removed sugar-sweetened beverages from every store, food truck, and vending machine on campus. The campus has more than 24,000 employees, making it one of the largest employers to remove soda and sugary drinks from the workplace. Even chains—like Subway and Panda Express—stopped selling beverages such as Sprite, Coca-Cola, and other sweetened drinks.
“We’re a public health institution, and there’s something not right about us making money off of products that we know are making people sick,” Laura Schmidt, a professor at the medical school who championed the policy, told the New York Times. A survey taken prior to the policy’s implementation indicated that some employees had been drinking up to a liter of soda, or approximately three cans, daily. A follow-up done six months after the policy went into effect found that soda consumption had dropped by an average of 25%.
After halting soda sales, the university created the perfect environment to observe the outcome of a sudden decrease in workday sugar intake. Researchers at UCFSF enrolled 214 of the university’s employees in a study to determine how a decreased soda intake affects health. Early indicators are promising, and they hope to publish their results soon.
Why Health Leaders Support Soda Taxes
UCSF’s policy is in keeping with the World Health Organization’s recommendation that countries impose taxes on sugary drinks. Their research shows that increasing taxes by even 20% could lead to a corresponding reduction in soda consumption. Soda taxes have already been implemented in major cities across the United States. Three California cities, Oakland, San Francisco, and Albany, passed penny-per-ounce taxes. Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, instituted the same tax rate. Philadelphia passed a 1.5 cent tax, and Boulder passed a two-cent tax.
Best of all, it seems that the only ones negatively impacted by soda taxes are big beverage companies. Some have wondered whether the budgets of low-income families will be negatively impacted by these measures, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. A recent study found that in low-income areas, soda consumption has decreased, and better still, water consumption has increased.
Do Soda Companies Influence Research Studies?
These measures are especially crucial in the light of recent findings that reveal a concerning bias in research on soda consumption. An analysis published revealed a 100% likelihood that studies financed by the soda industry or conducted by researchers with industry ties will find no connection between soda consumption and health risks. The team who conducted the analysis came to the conclusion that the industry is “manipulating contemporary scientific processes to create controversy and advance their business interests at the expense of public health.”
Deciphering scientific findings can be challenging even when research is not being heavily influenced by financial interests. Given this pervasive bias, it is especially important that lawmakers and institutions push back against corporate interests and encourage individuals to make healthier choices.