Jan 13 2023, 7:01 AMJanuary 12, 2023
This commentary is by Jane Kolodinsky, Ph.D., of Burlington, a professor and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont; and Jan K. Carney, M.D., of South Burlington, a professor of medicine at Larner College of Medicine at UVM. Both are members of the advocacy committee for the American Heart Association.
As Vermont lawmakers look to improve the health and future of Vermont youth this session, voting to support a sugary beverage excise tax could be a powerful way to accomplish this goal.
Habitual consumption of sugary beverages is linked with preventable chronic health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
This potential tax has positive impacts for public health and more. Evidence shows that in localities with such a tax, sugary drink consumption goes down and consumption of healthier drinks increases.
But there is also another attractive benefit for Vermont lawmakers to consider as the new legislative session starts — new revenue.
According to the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, a 2-cent-per-ounce sugary beverage excise tax is estimated to raise over $30 million in new revenue for Vermont that could be used for important economic development efforts, benefiting both families and businesses.
Just look at Philadelphia for an example. Two years following the implementation of Philadelphia’s 1.5 cent/oz. tax, there was an average 2 cents/oz. increase in taxed beverage price and a 42% decline in volume of the taxed beverages bought at small, independent stores. A recent economic study also estimated that Philly’s tax created between 800 and 1,350 new jobs since it was implemented in 2017, in part by increasing funding for early care and education programs, which allowed more parents to return to the workforce.
Not only did the tax support families who needed help with child care costs, it also had a direct and positive impact on employment. More people entered the workforce who were previously prevented from doing so due to a lack of affordable child care. This broadens the tax base, helps maintain the workforce businesses need, and supports economic stability and growth.
Vermont has made good progress over the last two years in shoring up our early childhood education system to support educators and increase accessibility for families. However, it must find a long-term, sustainable funding source to ensure child care is more affordable for families. Using a sugary beverage excise tax to help fund child care can help Vermont be a more affordable place to live, work, and raise a family.
Vermont is a leader in health. Taxing sugary beverages is a well-established and effective health policy. Another reason this tax makes good economic sense is its potential to reduce health care spending through prevention of sugary drink consumption, which contributes to heart disease in children and adults and costs the U.S. more than $200 billion each year.
It’s no wonder, given that sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet. And children, on average, consume 30 gallons of sugary beverages each year — enough to fill a bathtub.
Reducing overconsumption of these unhealthy drinks could help Vermont youth achieve better lifelong health while reducing health care spending. Seattle’s experience shows a sustained positive impact on health. And a new study suggests even more benefits of reducing sugary drink consumption in terms of social determinants of health, noting that too much sugar in childhood is linked to lower wages later on.
A sugary beverage tax is a win-win. Families benefit. Kids benefit. Businesses benefit. Most importantly, this tax improves our collective health. It’s time to look at the evidence for Vermont.
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