The One Thing That Might Keep People From Drinking Soda

Last Update: July 1, 2024

The gradual decline of Americans’ love affair with sugary sodas has been well-documented: soda consumption slid again last year, for the eleventh year in a row. But just because we’re drinking less doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. After all, Americans still consume just shy of nine billion 192-ounce cases of soda annually—an eye-popping amount. The world over, only Argentina drinks more soda than we do.

To lower our consumption even further, perhaps we should follow Mexico’s example. In 2012, the Mexican government took action on its residents’ addiction to soda, which flip-flops with the U.S. as one of the most obese developed nations on Earth, by levying a tax. The announcement of the tax was met with fierce opposition from some, who said the it wouldn’t lower consumption and would instead hamper those least able to afford alternatives to cheap soda. Advocates, however, argued that it’s the poor who are least able to afford health insurance—and therefore should be drinking less soda.

Well, a November study confirmed what many had been observing since the Mexican tax was implemented: that people are, in fact, buying less soda. Soda purchases are actually way down—12 percent—with the highest drops happening among the poor (despite efforts last year by some pro-industry legislators to lower the tax).

Mexico’s success with a tax could cause other nations, even the U.S., to follow suit. For now, most of the efforts to tax soda have been on the local level. In 2014, Berkeley, Calif., voters approved a tax on sodas, but it’s not clear whether it’s working. The Obama administration rejected an effort to include a federal soda tax in the newly released dietary guidelines as well.

Taxes aren’t the only way to wean us off the sweet stuff.

In the results of a separate survey, released last week, 60 percent of parents polled said that a warning label (a la cigarettes) on sodas and other sugary beverages would dissuade them from buying the product for their child. Still, a California bill that would have put warning labels on sugary beverages sold in the state died last week in committee—the same day a poll showing support for such a measure from nearly four out of five Golden State voters was released. The label would have read as follows: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

If we’re serious about either of these policy actions—and the data suggests we ought to be—expect to see fierce opposition from major soda manufacturers. Any effort to decrease the purchase and consumption of products sold by multi-billion-dollar corporations is going to get some pushback.

But healthcare professionals say that for our lives’ sake, we literally have no other choice than to act—and act boldly.

Photo credit: Darren Muir via Stocksy

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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