Background: Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages including nondiet sodas, sport drinks, and energy drinks has been linked with obesity. Recent state and local efforts to tax these beverages have been unsuccessful. Enactment will be unlikely without public support, yet little research is available to assess how to effectively make the case for such taxes. Purpose: The objectives were to assess public opinion about arguments used commonly in tax debates regarding sugar-sweetened beverages and to assess differences in public opinion by respondents' political party affiliation. Methods: A public opinion survey was fielded in January-March 2011 using a probability-based sample of respondents from a large, nationally representative online panel to examine public attitudes about nine pro- and eight anti-tax arguments. These data were analyzed in August 2011. Results: Findings indicated greater public agreement with anti- than pro-tax arguments. The most popular anti-tax argument was that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is arbitrary because it does not affect consumption of other unhealthy foods (60%). A majority also agreed that such taxes were a quick way for politicians to fill budget holes (58%); an unacceptable intrusion of government into people's lives (53.8%); opposed by most Americans (53%); and harmful to the poor (51%). No pro-tax arguments were endorsed by a majority of the public. Respondents reported highest agreement with the argument that sugar-sweetened beverages were the single largest contributor to obesity (49%) and would raise revenue for obesity prevention (41%). Conclusions: Without bolstering public support for existing pro-tax messages or developing alternative pro-tax messages, enacting such policies will be difficult. Message-framing studies could be useful in identifying promising strategies for persuading Americans that taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages are warranted.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Healthy Eating Research Program (nos. 68051 and 69173) and expert research assistance by Marian Jarlenski.
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