August 1, 2013

Insights in Public Health: Taxing Sugar Sweetened Beverages to Improve Public Health: Policy Action in Hawai‘i

Lehua Choy, May Rose Dela Cruz, Megan Hagiwara, Hyun Hee Heo, Tanya Peacock, Matthew G. Pearce, Tricia Usagawa, and Tetine Sentell

Hawai‘i Journal of Medicine & Public Health

Following national trends, rates of overweight and obesity in Hawai‘i have increased dramatically over the past two decades.  Today, over 20% of Hawai‘i’s adults and almost 15% of its youth are obese, while an additional 34% of adults and 14% of youth are overweight. Obesity is not only a major health issue, but is also an important economic concern. Annual obesity-related medical costs in Hawai‘i are estimated to be $470 million.

The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) is a known contributor to the development of overweight and obesity, especially in children and adolescents.  SSB are defined as “beverages which contain added naturally-derived caloric sweeteners such as sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice concentrates.”  SSB include sodas, sweet teas and coffees, juice drinks, and energy drinks.  Consumption of SSB may contribute to weight gain through a number of pathways, including the fact that calories consumed in soda are less satiating than calories from solid food and because consumption of SSB can potentially change taste preferences towards less healthy options.

According to the CDC, SSB consumption accounts for 12%–13% of the energy intake for adolescents aged 14 to 17 years in the United States, and an estimated 7% of the energy intake for all Americans.  The highest consumption rates of SSB are seen in racial and ethnic minorities, groups that also have increased rates of obesity.  A population-level decrease in SSB consumption thus has the potential to decrease not only obesity rates in general, but also to reduce youth obesity in particular. Reduction in SSB consumption could potentially help to decrease some racial/ethnic health disparities.

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