Our Work

Sugary Drink Taxes: Regressive, Progressive or Both: Analyzing the economic impacts of taxes in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco

Excessive consumption of sugary drinks is an important contributor to poor diet quality and overweight among children, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has emerged as an important healthy food and weight policy solution over the past five years. However, stakeholders have raised equity concerns given the regressive nature of excise taxes. Indeed, tax regressivity has become a contentious and prominent element in debates about SSB taxes. However, any regressive tax burden effects should be placed in the broader context of tax policy impacts, which include tax revenue allocation, for low-income households and people of color. Therefore, objective evidence is needed to determine the nature and extent of tax payment regressivity versus net progressivity of the full tax policy. Policy makers and advocates are seeking this scientific information from the investigators. To address this gap in knowledge we propose the following specific aims: 

  • Aim 1: Quantify the magnitude of tax payment regressivity in each of three large US cities (Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle) that have implemented SSB taxes.
  • Aim 2: Assess the global economic impacts of SSB tax policy in two ways:
    • 1) by estimating the amount of tax revenues benefitting low-income people and comparing this to the aggregate amount of tax paid by low-income households
    • 2) by calculating the net transfer of tax paid by high-income households to programs serving low-income households.
  • Aim 3: Analyze how variation in tax design across the cities affects the economic impact on low-income communities to inform policy makers designing future SSB tax policies.

Project Sponsor

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy Eating Research

Project Team

Jessica Jones-Smith, PI

Jim Kriger, Co-Investigator

Lina Pinero Walkinshaw, Study Coordinator