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New England Journal of Medicine Publishes Poll on Government Regulation of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages; Americans Less Supportive than Other Countries

Updated: 8/14/21 10:00 amPublished: 1/18/13
By Adam Brown

The New England Journal of Medicine just published the results of a poll (1,290 votes from 75 countries) that asked readers to vote on the government regulation (e.g., taxes, bans) of sugar-sweetened beverages. An astounding 84% of voters from the rest of the world supported government regulation of sugar-sweetened beverages, compared to only 58% of voters from the United States. Authors Drs. James Colbert and Jonathan Adler attributed this marked difference to US history and culture (e.g., individualism, personal responsibility) and pointed to reader comments to help better explain the survey’s results. Those in support of government regulation argued that it was necessary to address the serious and wide-ranging public health concerns of obesity. Those against regulation emphasized the importance of education (rather than regulation) and that government intervention does not solve the fundamental problem: people need to change the way they live their lives.

Here at diaTribe, we’ve been hearing much more about the regulation of sugary drinks in recent politics and at conferences. In September 2012, the New York City Board of Health approved a ban on the sale of soda and sugar-sweetened drinks sold in containers larger than 16 ounces (see new now next in diaTribe #48). And as we noted in conference pearls in diaTribe #48, the topic of sugar-sweetened beverages received considerable attention at The Obesity Society conference. Dr. Steven Gortmaker (Harvard School of Public Health, Boston) estimated that a one cent per ounce tax on these drinks could reduce national health care costs by $1,700 per dollar spent, raise $12.7 billion each year in taxes, and lead to health benefits beyond those directly related to weight loss. Dr. Frank Chaloupka came to a similar conclusion: a penny per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate approximately $15 billion in additional revenue per year. Now wouldn’t that be something to put toward obesity education, subsidizing healthier foods, and exercise! Though there is not a one golden ticket solution to prevent and reduce obesity, we expect that these discussions and opinions of the government’s role will continue to evolve as the expansion of healthcare occurs through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. –MN/AB

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About the authors

Adam Brown joined diaTribe in 2010 as a Summer Associate, became Managing Editor in 2011, and served as Senior Editor through 2019. Adam brings almost two decades of personal experience... Read the full bio »