Panel: Tax and Labeling Policies to Reduce Consumption of Unhealthy Food and Beverages

Friday, November 9, 2012: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
International D (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  Colleen L. Barry, Johns Hopkins University
Moderators:  Amy Jordan, Annenberg Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania
Chairs:  Steve Teret, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

At the state and federal level, taxes and labeling policies have increasingly been considered as potentially promising strategies for reducing consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages, and, in turn, curbing obesity rates. Most U.S. states already collect sales tax on foods and beverages high in sugar and fats, but these taxes are small relative to the price of these items – ranging from about 1 to 8 percent of the purchase price. Recent proposals have aimed to increase the price of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), including non-diet sodas, sport drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks, by collecting larger taxes such as a penny or more per ounce. Tax increases on SSBs have recently been considered in many diverse areas of the country, including New York, California, Texas, Mississippi, Illinois and Vermont. To date, state and local efforts to collect larger taxes have been largely unsuccessful, and public opinion research indicates mixed public support for SSB taxes. Efforts to enact food labeling approaches have been more successful. Most prominently, a menu labeling provision covering restaurants with 20 or more locations was enacted into law under the Affordable Care Act and expected to appear on menu boards in mid-2012. To date, little is known about how the public perceives tax and labeling policies, whether these policies are effective strategies for reducing obesity, and how much the design components of these policies (e.g., the specific content of the labels used) influence consumption. This panel includes four papers using different methodological approaches to examine tax and labeling policies to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods. Paper 1, presented by Jeff Niederdeppe, uses news media content analysis methods to assess use of arguments supporting and opposing SSB taxes in national news media coverage and in news outlets serving jurisdictions where SSB taxes have been proposed, and to document how pro- and anti-tax sources were used in news coverage. Paper 2, presented by Colleen Barry, presents results from a web-based national public opinion survey to assess public attitudes about pro- and anti-SSB tax arguments (n=1,026). Paper 3, presented by Sara Bleich, presents results from corner-store based intervention in low-income, predominately Black neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland aimed at reducing SSB purchase among adolescents after exposure to caloric labeling information. Paper 4, presented by Brian Elbel, presents results from a field experiment testing various approaches to influence food and beverage purchasing grounded in behavioral economics. The experimental setting used was a mock “corner store” in a busy clinic area of a large, urban public hospital serving largely low-income, racial/ethnic minority patients. Steve Teret, an expert on the use of the law as a tool of protecting the public’s health, will chair this panel. Amy Jordan, an expert on health communication and policy, will serve as discussant. Considered collectively, these papers contribute much to our understanding of how to effectively frame obesity prevention policies to garner greater public support, and how to design these policies to maximally reduce consumption of unhealthy foods.

News Coverage of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes: Pro- and Anti-Tax Arguments In Public Discourse
Jeff Niederdeppe1, Sarah Gollust2, Marian Jarlenski3, Ashley Nathanson3 and Colleen L. Barry4, (1)Cornell University, (2)University of Minnesota, (3)Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, (4)Johns Hopkins University

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