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April 13, 2017

Drexel study examines how money-framing strategy, not health benefits, led to Philly's soda tax passage

Researchers at university's Dornsife School of Public Health interviewed policymakers behind the tax

The city’s new tax on sweetened beverages has so far been a success, though that doesn’t necessarily mean Philadelphians are becoming any healthier.

They might be, and likely are, considering the findings of studies on other cities where similar taxes have passed.

But when Philadelphia officials say the soda tax is surpassing expectations, they are referring to the amount of money generated from the tax to fund pre-K education and more, not residents’ collective weight loss or lowered risks for heart disease and diabetes.


RELATED: Study: Sugary drink consumption dropped after soda tax – by a lot


Researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health spent several months leading up to the June 2016 passage of the city’s soda tax talking to the people who pushed it forward to study what led to its approval.

They found the way the tax was framed – as a money generator for city schools, specifically a pre-K program that city residents showed strong support for, as opposed to the health benefits of slugging back less sugar – to have been the catalyst leading to its passage.

As noted in the Drexel study, “arguments for health benefits — which had played a prominent role in two previous, failed attempts at a sugary beverage tax — were deemed too controversial to successfully pass the tax this time around.” 

By framing the tax as an education-based policy, proponents were able to use slogans like “Our Kids Are Worth It” to counter arguments related to economic concerns, the study found.

Jonathan Purtle, lead researcher and Drexel public health school assistant professor, said this framing strategy may change the way taxes are packaged in the future. 

Read more here.