Press Release

News About Efforts to Tax Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) Rarely Describes the Benefits of SSB Taxes, Study Finds

For Media Inquires Contact:

Brandie Campbell

Cell: 510.285.5548

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The news about sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax campaigns frequently reported the health harms of SSBs and exposed the beverage industry’s outsized campaign spending, but rarely named the benefits of SSB taxes or how they can act as a tool for industry accountability, found a new study from researchers at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, a program of the Public Health Institute; the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health; and the University of California San Francisco’s School of Medicine.

The study, Pro- and Anti-Tax Framing in News Articles About California Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Campaigns from 2014-2018, recently published in the Journal of Health Communication. The study analyzed news coverage of tax campaigns of four California cities (Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany), between 2014 and 2018, which were successful in passing excise taxes on SSBs to improve public health and hold the beverage industry responsible for their contributions to health inequities. To date, three other cities in the United States and the Diné (Navajo) Nation, along with more than 50 countries around the world, have instituted SSB taxes.

These communities have experienced real benefits as a result of SSB taxes. However, in their media analysis, BMSG and partners found that less than one-third of articles (27%) contained arguments describing the potential benefits of SSB taxes for communities during campaigns, or sustained coverage after taxes were implemented to highlight such benefits.

headshot of Kim Garcia
The media play a critical role in the public’s understanding of public health initiatives like SSB taxes. We’re happy to see the media covering the relationship between sugary drinks and health, as well as some of the beverage industry’s underhanded tactics during SSB campaigns. However, going forward we’d like to see reporters draw on all the recent research that we now have about the benefits of SSB taxes and their implications for health equity. Kim Garcia, MPH

Media Researcher & Lead Author, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Public Health Institute

Evidence shows that the SSB industry intentionally targets communities of color – including children and youth – and profits from unregulated, racialized marketing practices. These unchecked practices worsen health outcomes, especially for lower-income communities and communities of color, yet the news from these early SSB tax campaigns rarely discussed predatory practices or how they contribute to health inequities.

“We know a lot more now about predatory SSB industry practices, in part due to the advocacy work of the people who lead the campaigns we studied. As other communities pursue taxes, we’d love to see greater public recognition of these actions so that companies can start working toward accountability, especially in communities of color that the industry targets,” said Pamela Mejia, BMSG head of research and co-author of the study. “In the same way that the news played an important role in holding the tobacco industry responsible for the harms it causes — and its efforts to thwart public health interventions — journalists now can apply similar approaches to their reporting on the beverage industry.”

BMSG’s research also showed that media coverage privileged the expertise of health professionals when it comes to SSB taxes but often excluded voices of community members and pro-tax coalition supporters — voices that should be elevated to convey the public health value of SSB taxes.


  • Representatives from the beverage industry, industry-funded front groups, and other retail groups were most often quoted in articles about SSB taxes; together, they appeared in 55% of articles
  • Medical and public health professionals were the second-most quoted sources (34%). Many cited evidence on the rates of diet-related diseases to emphasize the need for SSB taxes.
  • Spokespeople from pro-tax coalitions seldom appeared (8% of articles) – half the number of articles compared to spokespeople from industry-funded front groups.
  • Community voices, such as those of parents, youth, and residents, were quoted in 21% of articles; they often shared their personal experiences with diet-related diseases and described the significant impacts of these illnesses on their communities.

In future campaigns, supporters can leverage the experiences of communities that have implemented an SSB tax and structure arguments about the benefits of SSB taxes by drawing on recent evidence showing the local benefits of SSB taxes.

Read the full study.

About Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG)
BMSG, a program of the Public Health Institute, was founded in 1993 and is dedicated to expanding the ability of public health professionals, journalists, and community groups to improve the systems and structures that determine health and safety. Our approach is grounded in three decades of examining — and working to shift — narratives around public health and social justice issues to achieve racial and health equity.

About Public Health Institute (PHI)
The Public Health Institute and its programs improve health, equity, and wellness by discovering new research, strengthening key partnerships and programs, and advancing sound public health policies. Our hundreds of programs have impacted millions of people, creating an architecture that will continue to impact communities for generations to come.

Media contacts

Kim Garcia
Media Researcher, BMSG, 510-423-2829

Pamela Mejia
Head of Research, BMSG, 509-432-6228

Originally published by Berkeley Media Studies Group

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