In a recent research review, Powell and her colleagues found that a 20 percent price hike -- roughly equivalent to the penny-per-ounce tax proposal -- correlated with a 24 percent decline in people's sugary drink intake, on average.
"Where I think more research is needed is on the net effect on body weight," Powell said. If people replace their sweet-drink calories with other, non-taxed drinks or food, then there could be little, if any, effect on weight.
Powell and Brownell both stressed that no single measure is the answer to the nation's obesity problem. Powell said it's also important to make healthy choices easier -- through, for example, subsidies that help low-income Americans buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and ensuring all households have clean, palatable tap water.
As for the idea that government shouldn't interfere with people's diets, Powell noted that the food industry uses ads to sway consumers -- and that kids are particularly vulnerable to that. "It would be interesting to ask parents, 'Should food companies be allowed to influence what your children eat and drink?' and see how they respond," Powell said.
The Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll was conducted online within the United States between March 28 and April 1, 2013, and it included 2,132 adults aged 18 and over surveyed by Harris Interactive. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.
Learn more about sugary drinks and health from the Harvard School of Public Health.
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