Sticker shock influences soda drinkers

    In Philadelphia, the bid to add a tax to soft drinks failed, but new research suggests that a significant price hike might work to sour consumers’ taste for sugary sodas.

    In Philadelphia, the bid to add a tax to soft drinks failed, but new research suggests that a significant price hike might work to sour consumers’ taste for sugary sodas.
    (Photo: Flickr/trekkyandy)

    What would you do if the cafeteria at work jacked up the price of your favorite soda? At a hospital in Boston, a 45-cent price hike, lowered the sales of sugary soft drinks by 26 percent.

    Harvard health researcher Jason Block led the study.

    Block: Pricing increases are controversial. I think that we as a society need to decide if a pricing approach toward trying to control consumption of these obesogenic drinks is one that we should really pursue. It’s a worthy debate.

    Soft drinks contribute more calories to the American diet than any other food type. And Block says price increases should be one tool health officials consider as they fight obesity and our heavy consumption of sugary drinks.

    The Harvard researchers also tested the effect of an education-only campaign on soda sales, and found no change. The study appears in The American Journal of Public Health.

    Block says his new study measures behavior change among an entire population.

    Block: Only intensive individual counseling works, in terms of helping to propel someone to lose weight. Population approaches have the potential to have a much broader effect at a lower cost, because they involve small changes that have large impact because they expose the entire population.

    Block says one-on-one counseling can help individuals cut back on sugary drinks but that approach is labor intensive and can be expensive. He says cutting America’s heavy consumption of soft drinks will likely require both individual and population approaches — similar to the taxes used to curb smoking.

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