Price Increases on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Improve Zero Calorie Selections by 25+ Percent

Nov 14, 2013, 14:18 ET from The Obesity Society

New Studies, NYC Health Commissioner Keynote at ObesityWeek(SM) Promote Efforts for Healthier Beverage Selections

ATLANTA, Nov. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As health advocates and policymakers, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, aim to reduce the amount of non-nutritious calories consumed through sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), obesity researchers are working hard to uncover successful strategies to guide best practices. New research studies and a keynote by Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, New York City Health Commissioner, presented at The Obesity Society (TOS) Annual Meeting at ObesityWeek 2013 today address interventions that can help to decrease consumption of higher-calorie drinks.  


Today, Jason Block, MD, and colleagues at Harvard Medical School, presents research that ties point-of-purchase interventions, including cost increases and displaying beverages by calorie content, to consumers choosing lower calorie beverages. The study, "A Time Series Analysis of Pricing and Display Interventions Targeting Beverages in a Large Workplace Cafeteria," included two targeted environmental interventions in a large financial services cafeteria. Both interventions – price and display - lasted for three months and were separated by a two-month washout period. Researchers used interrupted time series analyses to examine the effect of the interventions on sales. Researchers found that a price increase in high-calorie beverages (more than 150 calories) of 1 cent per ounce increased sales of zero calorie beverages by 26 percent and decreased sales of high-calorie beverages by 16 percent. In addition, the study shows displaying products by their calorie content can also reduce the frequency of high-calorie beverage purchases.

"Our study aims to improve the knowledge base in the area of point-of-purchase interventions to improve healthy eating, including beverage selections," said Dr. Block. "Findings illustrate the potential positive impact that small changes can have on consumers choosing lower-calorie drinks."

TOS has paid close attention to efforts to reduce SSB consumption during the past several years.

"As we work to improve healthy choices across the nation, this study suggests that small adjustments in presentation or pricing may have an outsize positive effect on consumer behavior," said TOS Past-President, Patrick O'Neil, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina. "We need more research like this to provide an evidence base for health advocates and policymakers, among many others, who are working to encourage healthier choices."

Multiple sessions and research presented throughout the conference cover the topic of SSBs and possible associated policies to improve health. Also presented today is research analyzing the adoption process of taxes on SSBs, by Yann Le Bodo, of Quebec Heart and Lung Research Institute. The study, "Conditions Influencing the Adoption of a Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Taxation Policy: Reflections and Perspectives from the French Case," reviews SSB taxation in France.

"We observed that despite important controversies, the bill passed in December 2011; however, the taxation's initial public health rational was partly disregarded to give precedence to budgetary considerations, and artificially-sweetened drinks were finally included in the tax basis," said Le Bodo. "While a decrease in SSB sales has been reported in 2012, a clear cause and effect relationship could not be established. It's certainly a public health strategy worthy of more evaluation."

Today's ObesityWeek keynote speaker, Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, New York City Health Commissioner in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, talked about the city's efforts to reduce SSB consumption in his address, "Saving Gotham: New York City's Attempts to Reverse the Obesity Epidemic."

"There are limits on a human's ability to refuse food," said Dr. Farley. "And since food is cheap and ubiquitous you can easily sneak in extra calories wherever you go." And that's why the obesity epidemic is the cholera of our day he said. "We in New York City are paid to respond to epidemics and will continue to work on it until it ends."

To a packed room of nearly 4000 obesity researchers, bariatric surgeons, nutritionists and other allied health professionals, Dr. Farley described the ongoing efforts of New York City to fight obesity on all fronts. His presentation was met with a standing ovation by the crowd of professionals committed to treating obesity as a disease.

Dr. Farley also unveiled a new website,, where consumers can see nutritional data for more than 60 restaurant chains.

"While there has been political controversy about some of New York City's regulatory efforts, it has also increased the national focus on the impact sugar-sweetened beverages have on our health and weight," said Dr. O'Neil. "These beverages are an abundant and ever-present source of empty calories. For the person trying to lose weight and keep it off, reducing or eliminating their intake of SSBs is a way to cut calories in a New York minute."

Find more information about the research here and a press release from the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene here.

About The Obesity Society 
The Obesity Society (TOS) is the leading professional society dedicated to better understanding, preventing and treating obesity. Through research, education and advocacy, TOS is committed to improving the lives of those affected by the disease. For more information visit:

About ObesityWeek
ObesityWeekSM is the largest, international event focused on the basic science, clinical application, and prevention and treatment of obesity. TOS and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) host the world's pre-eminent conference on obesity, ObesityWeekSM 2013, Nov. 11-16, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. For the first time, both organizations hold their respective annual scientific meetings under one roof to unveil exciting new research, discuss emerging treatment and prevention options, and network and present with leaders in the field.

SOURCE The Obesity Society