This County Cut Sugary Drink Sales by 20% Without a Soda Tax

soda sales drop

Howard County, Maryland managed to cut soda sales by 20% and fruit drink sales by 15% between January 2013 and December 2015 without levying a soda tax. The county’s methods could serve as a blueprint for other areas of the country that wish to do the same. [1]

The tale of Howard County’s success is detailed in an analysis published in JAMA Internal MedicineThe authors write:

“This policy-focused campaign provides a road map for other communities to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.”

Sugary beverage sales were successfully reduced with the help of the county’s Unsweetened campaign, funded by the Horizon Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to health and wellness. The campaign included TV and outdoor advertising, as well as a social media campaign. The campaign also worked with healthcare professionals, namely pediatricians, to improve messaging they could use educate their young patients about the risks associated with sugary beverage consumption, including obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Community partners assisted with the campaign by advocating for policies to reduce consumption of all sugary drinks. A new local law was even passed that promotes access to healthier food and drink options in vending machines at parks and government buildings, and on other government property.

Volunteers donated their time to “soda-swapping” events in which they approached residents at public events to convince them to swap out their sugary drinks for water. Those who want more than just water are guided to the Horizon Foundation’s Better Beverage Finder tool, which offers more than 300 no-sugar and low-sugar alternatives to sugary drinks.

The group is working to determine which aspects of the Unsweetened campaign had the biggest impact. Lead author and director of the Rudd Center, Marlene Schwartz, says:

“We were evaluating the program as a whole, so we don’t know which components made a difference. But my personal opinion is that changes to the actual environment … [have] a big impact. You’re changing what’s easiest for people to purchase.” [2]

Source: Business Insider

Read: Soda Consumption Linked to Diabetes, Other Health Woes

She writes on the Horizon Foundation website:

“This study demonstrates the power of a community-based public health campaign that combines health-supporting policy changes with extensive outreach. The residents of Howard County have been engaged in every phase of this effort and their commitment to switching their drinks showed up in the supermarket sales data.”

In Howard County, 1 in 4 children are at an unhealthy weight, according to Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president CEO of Horizon Foundation, who says that “sugary drinks are the largest single source of added calories in kids’ diets.” [3]

Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, says:

“A child who gets type two diabetes at the age of 10, is an adult that will have complications like kidney failure and amputation at the age of 35.”


[1] NPR

[2] Horizon Foundation

[3] CBS News Baltimore

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