Objective: A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) has been proposed to address population weight gain but the effect across socio-economic position (SEP) is unclear. The current study aimed to clarify the differential impact(s) of SSB taxes on beverage purchases and consumption, weight outcomes and the amount paid in SSB taxes according to SEP.
Design: Databases (OVID and EMBASE) and grey literature were systematically searched in June 2015 to identify studies that examined effects of an SSB price increase on beverage purchases or consumption, weight outcomes or the amount paid in tax across SEP, within high-income countries.
Results: Of the eleven included articles, three study types were identified: (i) those that examined the association between variation in SSB taxes and SSB consumption and/or body weight (n 3); (ii) price elasticity estimation of SSB demand (n 1); and (iii) modelling of hypothetical SSB taxes by combining price elasticity estimates with population SEP-specific beverage consumption, energy intake or body weight (n 7). Few studies statistically tested differences in outcomes between SEP groups. Nevertheless, of the seven studies that reported on changes in weight outcomes for the total population following an increase in SSB price, all reported either similar reductions in weight across SEP groups or greater reductions for lower compared with higher SEP groups. All studies that examined the average household amount paid in tax (n 5) reported that an SSB tax would be regressive, but with small differences between higher- and lower-income households (0·10-1·0 % and 0·03 %-0·60 % of annual household income paid in SSB tax for low- and high-income households, respectively).
Conclusions: Based on the available evidence, a tax on SSB will deliver similar population weight benefits across socio-economic strata or greater benefits for lower SEP groups. An SSB tax is shown to be consistently financially regressive, but to a small degree.
Keywords: Obesity; Policy; Socio-economic inequalities; Sugar-sweetened beverage.