Soft drink prices, sales, body mass index and diabetes: Evidence from a panel of low-, middle- and high-income countries.03 May 2018
We take advantage of four different cross-country datasets containing data on 78 countries for the period 1999-2014, in order to assess the relationship of carbonated soft drinks' sales, as well as their prices, with body mass index (BMI), overweight, obesity and diabetes. Using an ecological study design and multivariate regression longitudinal estimation approaches, we find that carbonated soft drink sales were significantly positively related to BMI, overweight and obesity - but only in the low and lower-middle income countries. This finding was robust to a number of sensitivity and falsification checks. In this sub-sample, an increase in per capita soft drink sales by 1 litre per year was related to an increase of BMI by about 0.009 kg/m2 (p < 0.1).. This is a small effect, implying that halving annual consumption per capita in this group of countries would result in a drop of BMI by only about 0.03 kg/m2. Although soft drink prices were negatively related to weight-related outcomes in the sample of higher middle income and high income countries, this finding was not robust to falsification checks. The results thus suggest that sales restrictions to steer consumers away from soft drinks could indeed have a beneficial health effects in poorer countries, although the effect magnitude appears to be very small. However, given potential limitations of using ecological research design, results from individual level studies would be required to further ascertain the role of soft drink sales and prices in obesity and diabetes.