In a test at one hospital cafeteria, a 45 cent price increase reduced purchases of sugary soft drinks, aligning with other research that suggests price increases of unhealthy substances may reduce consumption. Nutrition education alone had no effect.
Sugary soft drinks have been identified as a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic, leading policy-makers to seek ways to reduce consumption. Here, researchers used a five-phase intervention at the cafeteria of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts to test whether price increases, education or a combination of both would reduce sugary soft drink purchases. During the test, prices and posters with nutrition and weight loss information were posted conspicuously on the refrigerators containing the sugary soft drinks.
- In both phases when the prices of bottled sugary soft drinks were raised, in this case by 45 cents, purchases decreased significantly. During the first price hike, purchasing decreased by 26 percent; it then remained at that level even as the price increase was “washed out” in the next intervention phase. When the 45 cent price hike was reintroduced, this time in combination with the educational posters, consumption was reduced by another 18 percent.
- In the phase when educational posters alone were tested, there was no significant change in purchasing.
- There was no increase in any high-calorie beverage during the intervention.
This study had limitations, including that prices of fountain soda drinks at the same cafeteria could not be changed; there did not seem to be change in their overall sales, however. The authors call for the expansion of testing to multiple and diverse sites, of various prices, and of other sugary beverages. But the results here are consistent with research demonstrating purchases of high-fat snacks and tobacco are price sensitive. This study may have implications for policies that raise prices through taxation and divert those taxes to public health efforts.