A Drexel University study of self-reported beverage intake shows that consumers reduced their consumption of regular soda and energy drinks while increasing their consumption of bottled water after implementation of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax (PBT).
The Drexel study, released today, surveyed city residents and non-residents immediately before and after the tax on the distribution of sweetened beverages was implemented on January 1, 2017. The tax is generally paid by distributors and some retailers. Researchers found that during the first two months, daily consumption of bottled water increased by 58% among Philadelphians surveyed when compared to changes in the non-Philadelphia comparison group. Daily consumption of sweetened drinks fell 40%.
“Philadelphia residents are responding to the pass-through of the beverage tax in the healthiest way, by switching from sweetened drinks to water” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “If this pattern continues, we would expect in the future to see a drop in the number of Philadelphians affected by diabetes and heart disease.”
Health Department officials highlight other key findings of the study:
- The decrease in energy drink consumption in Philadelphia took place during a period in which consumption of these beverages increased sharply in the non-Philadelphia comparison group. Given the recent research showing both heavy use of energy drinks and significant health risks of these beverages among teens, this is encouraging.
- Prior to the tax, about 30% of Philadelphia residents surveyed reported daily consumption of sweetened beverages. This is consistent with previous estimates from the Public Health Management Corporation Household Health Survey.
- Future studies are needed to evaluate the impact of the beverage tax after the initial two months and to look at metrics other than self-reported intake. However this initial data points to substantial potential benefits of the tax to the health of City residents.
“In enacting the beverage tax, we have always focused on the need for the core programs in our city,” said Mayor Kenney. “Thanks to the beverage tax, more PHLpreK graduates are entering kindergarten ready to learn, neighborhoods students and families are benefiting from community schools, and we will soon address the state of the parks, rec centers and libraries in the neighborhoods around the city. In addition to all the benefits provided by these programs, I’m thrilled to see the ancillary health benefits evidenced by this study, as some Philadelphians switch to health beverage options.”
The data in the Drexel study appears to be consistent with:
- Preliminary data reported by researchers Christina Roberto at Penn and Sara Bleich at Harvard, who found a steep drop in sweetened drink purchases at Philadelphia stores, but no overall impact on store revenues.
- A separate Harvard study that calculated the expected health benefits of the tax
- Results seen in Mexico, where purchases of sweetened drinks declined, while water purchases increased.
It is also consistent with data released Wednesday by the City of Philadelphia, demonstrating strong employment in sectors affected by the Beverage Tax. The data included unemployment claims filed in Philadelphia and neighboring counties over a three-year period. New unemployment claims filings for industries potentially impacted by the PBT decreased by 10 percent in Philadelphia and 8 percent in the surrounding counties during the first year the tax was implemented, January – December 2017. The report also found that annual wage tax collections from all PBT-affected industries increased 6.2 percent from 2015 to 2017. Additionally, more businesses within these affected industries are remitting Wage Tax, with an increase of 5.2 percent reporting over the two-year period.
The PBT generated nearly $79 million in its first 12 months. That money has given over 2,700 three- and four- year old children the opportunity to access free, quality pre-K. At the same time, it has served over 6,000 students and their families through 11 Community Schools — public schools that offer expanded services that support health and wellness, after-school programming and job training.