Courtesy of UCSF Newsroom

It’s possible a nationwide penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks could prevent an estimated 26,000 deaths, 2.4 million cases of diabetes, 95,000 coronary heart events and 8,000 strokes over the next decade, according to a study published this month in the journal Health Affairs.

The authors, scientists at UC San Francisco’s General Hospital and Trauma Center (SFGH) and Columbia University, state that this type of tax would also bring in $13 billion per year in direct tax revenue, in addition to a savings of $17 billion in health care-related expenses over the next decade.

“Our hope is that these types of numbers are useful for policy makers to weigh decisions,” Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics and acting director of the Center for Vulnerable Populations at SFGH, told UC San Francisco.

The study notes that according to industry data, Americans consumed 13.8 billion gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages in 2009, or about 45 gallons per capita annually of soda, fruit punch, sweetened tea, sports drinks, and all other beverages with added caloric sweeteners.

According to the authors, these beverages are the largest source of added sugar and excess calories in the American diet and have been linked to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

Using the Coronary Heart Disease Policy Model, they found that a penny-per-ounce tax would reduce consumption of sugary beverages by 15 percent among adults ages 25 to 64 over the next ten years.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the U.S. spends $174 billion a year to treat diabetes and at least $147 billion (9.1 percent of US health care expenditures) on overweight and obesity related health issues.

In 2009 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the reduction of sugary beverage consumption as one of its main obesity prevention strategies.

But despite considering external factors such as pricing counterstrategy, advertising and product reformulation, the researchers found it difficult to predict consumers’ responses to the proposed tax.

“In addition to generating substantial revenue, which can be used to fund health services or other infrastructure, the proposed penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is predicted to greatly reduce the adverse health and cost burdens of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases among US adults,” the authors stated in the study.

The research group includes: Y. Claire Wang, Pamela Coxson, Yu-Ming Shen, Lee Goldman and Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo.