Health Impact and Cost-Effectiveness of Volume, Tiered, and Absolute Sugar Content Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Policies in the United States: A Microsimulation Study

Circulation. 2020 Aug 11;142(6):523-534. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.042956. Epub 2020 Jun 22.

Abstract

Background: Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes are a rapidly growing policy tool and can be based on absolute volume, sugar content tiers, or absolute sugar content. Yet, their comparative health and economic impacts have not been quantified, in particular, tiered or sugar content taxes that provide industry incentives for sugar reduction.

Methods: We estimated incremental changes in diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease, quality-adjusted life-years, costs, and cost-effectiveness of 3 sugar-sweetened beverage tax designs in the United States, on the basis of (1) volume ($0.01/oz), (2) tiers (<5 g of added sugar/8 oz: no tax; 5-20 g/8 oz: $0.01/oz; and >20 g/8 oz: $0.02/oz), and (3) absolute sugar content ($0.01 per teaspoon added sugar), each compared with a base case of modest ongoing voluntary industry reformulation. A validated microsimulation model, CVD-PREDICT (Cardiovascular Disease Policy Model for Risk, Events, Detection, Interventions, Costs, and Trends), incorporated national demographic and dietary data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, policy effects and sugar-sweetened beverage-related diseases from meta-analyses, and industry reformulation and health-related costs from established sources.

Results: Over a lifetime, the volume, tiered, and absolute sugar content taxes would generate $80.4 billion, $142 billion, and $41.7 billion in tax revenue, respectively. From a healthcare perspective, the volume tax would prevent 850 000 cardiovascular disease (95% CI, 836 000-864 000) and 269 000 diabetes mellitus (265 000-274 000) cases, gain 2.44 million quality-adjusted life-years (2.40-2.48), and save $53.2 billion net costs (52.3-54.1). Health gains and savings were approximately doubled for the tiered and absolute sugar content taxes. Results were robust for societal and government perspectives, at 10 years follow-up, and with lower (50%) tax pass-through. Health gains were largest in young adults, blacks and Hispanics, and lower-income Americans.

Conclusions: All sugar-sweetened beverage tax designs would generate substantial health gains and savings. Tiered and absolute sugar content taxes should be considered and evaluated for maximal potential gains.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; costs and cost analysis; diabetes mellitus; policy; prevention and control; sugar-sweetened beverages; taxes.