In the five months since Berkeley, California, enacted a one cent-per-ounce (29.7 millilitres) excise tax on drinks such as Coke, Gatorade and Red Bull, low-income residents of the university city have reduced their consumption by 21 per cent, public health researchers from the University of California found.
What are Berkeley residents drinking instead? Tap water, researchers said.
In the neighbouring cities of Oakland and San Francisco, which do not have an extra tax on soft drinks, consumption was up 4 per cent over the same period, suggesting that the tax and resultant price increases had changed people’s behaviour.
“While Berkeley is just one small city, this is an important first step in identifying tools that can move the needle on population health,” said Kristine Madsen, senior researcher of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
A referendum to institute the local tax won a landslide 76 per cent in a 2014 vote. After Mexico instituted a similar tax in 2013, consumption of sugary drinks fell by 17 per cent, according to the university.
Earlier this year Philadelphia became the first major US city to institute a tax on sugary soft drinks. The move added a higher tax than Berkeley’s – 1.5 cents per ounce, and the city earmarked revenue from the tax for improving education and other public resources such as parks.