Study Finds Mexico’s Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Reduced Purchases of Sugary Drinks

The first comprehensive peer reviewed study to examine the immediate effects of Mexico’s new tax on sugar sweetened beverages was published in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) in January 2016. The full study is available online.

Researchers from the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (INSP), the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC’s Carolina Population Center estimated changes in household purchases of beverages over the complete year of 2014 compared with beverage purchase trends from 2012 and 2013. The study was funded mainly by long-term support to the INSP and the University of North Carolina by Bloomberg Philanthropies along with supplementary funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Key findings include:

  • There was a six percent average decline in purchases of taxed beverages during 2014, reaching a 12 percent reduction by December.
  • The tax had the greatest impact among lower socioeconomic households, with a nine percent average decline in purchases of sugary drinks over 2014 and a 17 percent decline by December among that group.
  • The purchase of untaxed beverages increased by four percent overall, primarily driven by an increase in bottled water purchases. This suggests that consumers are substituting healthier beverages in place of SSBs.

Read the full study here, or download the PDF here.

Listen to an interview with Shuwen Ng by Joel Werner from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – about the effect of the SSB tax on Mexican households.

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Guardian: Americans cutting calorie intake but junk food proves a hard habit to kick

A new article in The Guardian, titled Americans cutting calorie intake but junk food proves a hard habit to kick, features UNCFRP research from a January article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and commentary by Dr. Barry Popkin.

The downturn in calorie intake is not so much a watershed in the fight against obesity as a first step down a long and hard road to better nutrition, according to Barry Popkin, professor of public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose latest research paper flagged up the shift.
The drop in calories is largely attributable to the high level of public attention to sugar-sweetened beverages, such as colas and lemonades, says Popkin. That’s a good thing but, he says: “Americans are still eating a really bad diet. We haven’t increased whole grain. Still over 50% or 60% of the calories in kids and adults are from refined carbohydrates, desserts, fast food and savoury snacks.”
That means, he says, “more than half the calories for kids and adults in America are from junk food”.

Read the full article in The Guardian here. Read the referenced AJCN article (in PDF format) here.

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NYTimes quotes Dr. Popkin in ‘Americans Are Finally Eating Less’

UNCFRP research and comments by Dr. Barry Popkin are featured in the New York Times story by Margot Sanger-Katz, Americans Are Finally Eating Less, published July 24, 2015. The article discusses the gradual decline of calories eaten by Americans over the past several years:

There is no perfect way to measure American calorie consumption. But three large sources of data about diet all point in the same direction. Detailed daily food diaries tracked by government researchers, data from food bar codes and estimates of food production all show reductions in the calories consumed by the average American since the early 2000s. Those signals, along with the flattening of the national obesity rate, have convinced many public health researchers that the changes are meaningful.

This story is the first article in a series titled Scaling Back, which will focus on Americans’ changing eating habits.

A second brief article, It’s Hard to Count Calories, Even for Researchers, goes more in-depth to explain the data sources used in the above-mentioned story, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), data from the United States Department of Agriculture, and commercial data sources. The article features comment from Dr. Popkin, and also succinctly examines the strengths and weaknesses of each data source – while focusing on areas of agreement between the data provided by each source.

All three sources tell us that Americans are consuming fewer caloric beverages than they did a decade ago. Calories from beverages are down in every group in both the Nielsen and Nhanes surveys, and calories from added sugars are dropping in the U.S.D.A. measures.

Read the full New York Times – The Upshot articles here and here, and look for more in the Scaling Back series.


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Taxes may discourage purchase of sugared & high-fat beverages in US households with young children

A new study by Christopher N. Ford, PhD, found that a tax on beverages high in sugar and/or fat may be associated with favorable shifts in food and beverage purchases among households in the United States with a preschool child.

A press release by the Gillings School of Global Public Health featured Ford’s research:

Researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health determined that taxing high-calorie beverages may help persuade families of preschool children in the U.S. to buy fewer such beverages and perhaps to buy fewer high-calorie foods, as well. The study, “Targeted Beverage Taxes Influence Food and Beverage Purchases Among Households with Preschool Children,” used household food and beverage purchase data from the 2009 – 2012 Nielsen Homescan Panel, and was published online June 10 in the Journal of Nutrition.

Read the full press release here.

Read the full research article here.

Chris Ford, PhD, is a Gillings School Department of Nutrition and UNCFRP alumnus, and is now a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

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Purchases of taxed beverages decline in Mexico after excise tax takes effect

*** This post has been updated. See additional content here. ***

The UNC Food Research Program at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina and the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública have estimated changes in household purchases of beverages over the complete year of 2014, since the one peso per liter excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages took effect (January 1, 2014).The tax of approximately 10 percent applies to nondairy and non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar.

The data comes from a commercial panel of consumers that contains information on purchases of beverages from households living in 53 cities with at least 50,000 residents. The model adjusts for the pre-existing downward trend of taxed beverages since 2012 and for macroeconomic variables that can affect purchases. Preliminary results show a 6 percent average decline in purchases of taxed beverages over 2014 compared to pre-tax trends. This difference accelerated over 2014 and the reduction compared to pre-tax trends reached 12% by December 2014. All socioeconomic groups reduced purchases of taxed beverages. Reductions were higher among lower socio-economic households, averaging 9% decline over 2014 compared to pre-tax trends and up to a 17% decline by Dec 2014. Results also show roughly a 4 percent increase in purchases of untaxed beverages over 2014, mainly driven by an increase in purchased bottled plain water (tap water intake is not collected).

These preliminary results show average effects in the population studied. Future research would provide estimations on subgroups (i.e. large consumers of taxed beverages) to assess differential effects.

These results are preliminary and are currently under peer-reviewed publication. ***update*** The results of the study have been published in The BMJ in January 2016. Read more about the study and final results here, or download the PDF here. The study is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The research team included M. Arantxa Colchero and Juan A. Rivera, Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública INSP and Barry M. Popkin and Shu Wen Ng, University of North Carolina.

Ver en español aquí

Read media coverage in International Business Times here

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Poti: Processed Foods Account for >75% of Calories Purchased from US Grocery Stores

A study by Jennifer Poti found that >75% of the foods Americans purchased from grocery stores is moderately or highly processed, as reported by TIME on May 21, 2015.

As much as Americans like to pretend to worship at the altar of kale, many of us are cheating with chips, a new study suggests.

We like junk food so much that 61% of the food Americans buy is highly processed, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And almost 1,000 calories a day of person’s diet come solely from highly processed foods.

Read the full research article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Access a PDF version here.


(Post edited May 2015 – updated after epublication of study in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Original post below.)

Processed foods take up a large portion of the grocery carts of US shoppers, Jennifer Poti, research assistant professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNCFRP team member reported at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2015 in Boston.

A story from HealthDay News featured Dr. Poti’s research, stating

Highly processed foods include items such as prepared meals, white bread, cookies, chips, soda and candy. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods include fresh or frozen vegetables, fresh meat, milk, eggs and dried beans.

From 2000 to 2012, the proportion of calories bought in highly processed foods remained stable at 61 percent to 62.5 percent. There was a significant increase in the proportion of calories bought in ready-to-heat foods (such as frozen meals), reaching more than 15 percent in 2012, the investigators found.

Poti also mentioned that the term “processed foods” brings out many strongly held opinions and beliefs in many Americans, and there is a need to distinguish between levels of processing

“It is important that when we discuss processed foods, we acknowledge that many processed foods, such as canned vegetables or whole-grain breakfast cereals, are important contributors to nutrition and food security. However, it is the highly processed foods . . . that might potentially be related to obesity,” Poti said.

Read the full story from HealthDay News here.

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Study: preschoolers’ calorie intake down in last decade

A new study by Christopher Ford, doctoral candidate in nutrition epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and research assistant with the UNCFRP evaluated beverage trends of U.S. preschool children over a 10 year period between 2003-2012. The study noted that among U.S. preschoolers, total caloric intake fell by 132 calories per day, with intake of beverages falling by 55 calories per day between 2003 and 2012. Major contributors to the decline in calories were declines in sugar-sweetened beverages (including soft drinks and juice drinks) and higher-fat milk.

These changes in preschoolers’ intake suggest progress, however the authors encourage caution as the study also found some possible evidence of  the trend changing, and calorie consumption increasing between 2009-2012, although these changes were not statistically significant. The authors suggest further studies with more recent dietary changes, as data become available.

Read the full study (here as a PDF), titled “Ten-year beverage intake trends among US preschool children: rapid declines between 2003 and 2010 but stagnancy in recent years” from the journal Pediatric Obesity.

Read more from the Gillings School of Public Health feature on this research here.

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Study: Consumer Purchases of Cakes, Cookies and Pies Have Decreased by 24 Percent

A new study published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, by recent UNC graduate (and UNCFRP alum) Dr. Kevin C. Mathias, finds that consumer purchases of cakes, cookies, pies, and other ready-to-eat grain-based desserts decreased by 24% from 2005-2010. Dr. Mathias investigated this group of foods (ready-to-eat grain-based desserts) because they are one of the largest contributors of calories, solid fats, and added sugars to children, adolescents, and adults in the United States.

The study, titled “Monitoring Changes in the Nutritional Content of Ready-To-Eat Grain-Based Dessert Products Manufactured and Purchased between 2005 and 2012“, found the decrease in purchases among US households occurred alongside a decrease in energy density and an increase in the density of saturated fat and sugar. “The results of this study indicated that larger wide-scale efforts are needed among public health officials and all manufacturers of RTE GBDs to shift consumer purchases towards products with lower energy, sugar, and saturated fat content,” observed the lead author of the study, Dr. Mathias.

Listen to an interview with Kevin Mathias, discussing the results of the study.

To read more, access the full research article. The study was also featured in an article from, Winning War On Empty Calories? Cakes, Cookies, and Pie Purchases Down 24% Between 2005 and 2010.

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Study: Daily tasks can get sedentary workers closer to national physical activity guidelines

A new study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, titled No time for the gym? Housework and other non-labor market time use patterns are associated with meeting physical activity recommendations among adults in full-time, sedentary jobs, with lead author Lindsey Smith, found that people with sedentary (or deskbound) jobs can still meet national guidelines for physical activity by engaging in active tasks daily, such as housework, gardening, yard work or caregiving.

Smith’s research was featured by the Gillings School of Global Public Health:

“Reducing screen time is important, but it’s also vital that people recognize too much time sitting doing anything can be detrimental, especially for people who sit all day at work,” said Lindsey Smith, MPH, doctoral candidate in nutrition at the Gillings School and first author on the study. “This includes sitting while socializing, reading, running errands and other non-work activities.”

Smith adds that small changes in such habits often can be much easier for people to incorporate into their daily lives than are large-scale or radical changes. She cautions, however, that more study is needed to ascertain how overall time-use activities and patterns are related to obesity and health outcomes.
Smith adds that for people in general, but especially for individuals with sedentary jobs, the message about physical activity is fairly clear.

Read more from the research article here.

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NPR: Sayonara To ‘Super-Size Me?’ Food Companies Cut Calories, So Do We

NPR’s Alison Aubrey, with a story discussing our research published last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and the impact on individuals and food and beverage companies: [Listen to the story here]

It just might be the dawn of a new era in American eating. Two-thirds of us are now more likely to go for foods marketed as lower-calorie and “better-for-you,” and that means we’re finally eating fewer calories.

As we’ve reported, 16 companies, including General Mills, Kraft and Nestle, have removed 6.4 trillion calories from the marketplace. The calorie cuts — tracked by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation — are part of a nationwide effort to tackle the obesity epidemic.

And a new paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that as a results of company’s trimming calories, Americans are cutting back on salty snacks and sugary treats.

“We found that families with children cut 101 calories per day [per person] in their purchases,” researcher Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, tells us.

Read the articles referenced in the NPR piece, published in AJPM here (calories sold) and here (calories purchased). Access to the accompanying commentaries is available here.

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