PLoS medicine

Nakamura, R., Mirelman, A. J., Cuadrado, C., Silva-Illanes, N., Dunstan, J., & Suhrcke, M. (2018).

In October 2014, Chile implemented a tax modification on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) called the Impuesto Adicional a las Bebidas Analcohólicas (IABA). The design of the tax was unique, increasing the tax on soft drinks above 6.25 grams of added sugar per 100 mL and decreasing the tax for those below this threshold.

Methods and findings
This study evaluates Chile’s SSB tax, which was announced in March 2014 and implemented in October 2014. We used household-level grocery-purchasing data from 2011 to 2015 for 2,836 households living in cities representative of the urban population of Chile. We employed a fixed-effects econometric approach and estimated the before–after change in purchasing of SSBs controlling for seasonality, general time trend, temperature, and economic fluctuations as well as time-invariant household characteristics. Results showed significant changes in purchasing for the statistically preferred model: while there was a barely significant decrease in the volume of all soft drinks, there was a highly significant decrease in the monthly purchased volume of the higher-taxed, sugary soft drinks by 21.6%. The direction of this reduction was robust to different empirical modelling approaches, but the statistical significance and the magnitude of the changes varied considerably. The reduction in soft drink purchasing was most evident amongst higher socioeconomic groups and higher pretax purchasers of sugary soft drinks. There was no systematic, robust pattern in the estimates by household obesity status. After tax implementation, the purchase prices of soft drinks decreased for the items for which the tax rate was reduced, but they remained unchanged for sugary items, for which the tax was increased. However, the purchase prices increased for sugary soft drinks at the time of the policy announcement. The main limitations include a lack of a randomised design, limiting the extent of causal inference possible, and the focus on purchasing data rather than consumption or health outcomes.

The results of subgroup analyses suggest that the policy may have been partially effective, though not necessarily in ways that are likely to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in diet-related health. It remains unclear whether the policy has had a major, overall population-level impact. Additionally, because the present study examined purchasing of soft drinks for only 1 year, a longer-term evaluation—ideally including an assessment of consumption and health impacts—should be conducted in future research.

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