This new research echoes earlier research. A June 2012 Adweek/Harris poll showed 56 percent of Americans oppose soda taxes. That same year, a poll of New Yorkers showed that 63 percent opposed Mayor Bloomberg’s war on soft drinks. And an even more revealing poll by Rasmussen in 2010 found that 86 percent of Americans opposed the government telling them how they should eat or drink and a majority were against sin taxes on snack foods and sodas.
Americans may intuitively recognize that not only are these government efforts an inappropriate intrusion into private life, they are also unlikely to work.
In a 2011 Northwestern University study, for example, researchers examining the efficacy of soda taxes as an anti-obesity strategy were surprised to discover that soda taxes don’t target the intended demographic—the obese. Why? Obese individuals typically buy diet soda.
Similarly, a team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University had assumed such taxes would reduce obesity among adolescents. They used weight data from 20,000 children (the majority of which attended schools that sold snack foods and soft drinks in the cafeteria, in vending machines, and in school stores) and found the percentage of students who were overweight or obese did not increase from fifth to eighth grade. In fact, despite the increased availability of soda and snack foods, the percentage of students who were overweight or obese actually decreased during these years, from 39.1 percent to 35.4 percent.
Similarly, a University of Chicago study published last year showed the removal of soda machines from schools did nothing to reduce the childhood obesity rate among participating school populations.
As Americans consider a variety of important issues this November, they should also focus on this question: What is the appropriate role of government when it comes to our personal food decisions? While efforts to tax and regulate the food and beverage industry are promoted as a means to help Americans stay healthy, the result won’t be thinner kids or healthier adults. The result will simply be more bloated government, higher food costs and less choice for consumers who just want a cool soft drink on a hot summer day.