The contemporary American food environment makes energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages the “default” option for most consumers. Economic interventions like taxes can shift the relative prices of unhealthy foods to nudge consumers towards healthier options. Beverages with added sugar are a good starting point for food taxation; they constitute over 10 percent of caloric intake nationwide and provide little or no nutritional value. Current levels of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are too low to affect consumer behavior, but the implementation of a penny-per-ounce excise tax could lead to substantial public health benefits. Current estimates predict that a tax that raised the cost of SSBs by 20 percent could lead to an average reduction of 3.8 pounds per year for adults, causing the prevalence of obesity to decline from 33 to 30 percent. SSB taxes would also generate considerable revenue for public health and obesity prevention programs. Although the beverage industry is fighting such taxes with massive lobbying and public relations campaigns, support for the policies is increasing, especially when revenue is earmarked for obesity prevention.
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