Report: Sugary beverages consumption decreases due to Seattle tax

May 4, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:12 pm

sugary beverages...

Pepsi sodas displayed for purchase. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Six years after Seattle passed its Sweetened Beverage Tax, the city found both children and parents are consuming lower amounts of the beverages subject to the tax — any non-alcoholic beverage that contains sucrose, glucose, and high fructose corn syrup — over the last two years, according to a new report.

The average change in sugary beverage consumption among children in Seattle has decreased by 1.49 oz/day over the last 12 months and 1.26 oz/day over the last two years. For children living in the comparing areas, the decreases were 2.35 oz/day and 2.17 oz/day over the same time periods.

Soda was the most popular drink affected by the tax but has been replaced by fruit-flavored beverages with sugar over the last 12 months. Sports beverages ranked third, while energy drinks remained the only beverage affected by the tax that saw an increase in daily consumption.

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When investigating the decrease in sugary drink consumption, the city’s report found parents were more likely to report the tax, and the additional cost, as the primary reason for reducing the consumption of said beverages.

“I feel better drinking water. I now feel bad drinking soda, so I drink more water. Adults feel more of these things in their bodies than kids,” one Seattle resident said.

“We realized we spent a lot of money on sugar,” another Seattle resident said.

Prepared or bottled tea and coffee with sugar were the beverages that saw the greatest decrease over the last two years due to the tax.

While only 5% of parents supported the tax in the survey, 69% reported they felt neutral, while 26% actively opposed the tax.

“When I first heard about it, people were really mad,” a Seattle resident said. “People didn’t like paying more money … now people don’t even think about it anymore.”

“I used to complain about the tax before, but now … I realized how much it’s needed,” another Seattle resident said, according to the survey.

The tax was originally launched in June 2017, when the City of Seattle passed an ordinance to impose a 1.75-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks alongside requiring annual reports to analyze the impact of the tax. The report surveyed 303 families — 143 families based in Seattle and 187 families based in comparison areas — over six, 12, and 24-month periods.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible … sugar-sweetened beverage consumption leads to negative health outcomes,” Councilmember Tim Burgess said in 2017 before voting to pass the soda tax. “Communities of color and young people are disproportionately targeted by the beverage industry’s advertising and marketing campaigns. Black children and teens see twice as many ads for soda and other sweetened beverages compared to white children and other teens.”

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Burgess argued that sugary drinks are the leading source of excess calories and are linked to heart disease, dental disease, and other chronic illnesses, disproportionately affecting minorities.

“Daily consumption of just one sugary drink increases a child’s chance of obesity by 55% and diabetes by 26%,” he said.

The council voted 7-1 in favor of the tax, with Councilmember Lisa Herbold as the lone vote against it.

Watch Ursula Reutin join the Seattle’s Morning News team to talk about the impact of Seattle’s “sweetened beverage tax,” two years after it kicked off.

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Report: Sugary beverages consumption decreases due to Seattle tax