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Berkeley passes a tax on sugary drinks, and Canada passes a ban on Ebola travel. Neither will work. This is Healthcare Triage News.

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John Green -- Executive Producer
Stan Muller -- Director, Producer
Aaron Carroll -- Writer
Mark Olsen -- Graphics


Berkeley, California passes a tax on sugary drinks, Canada passes a ban on Ebola travel; neither will work. This is Healthcare Triage News.

 Sugar Tax

We made a Healthcare Triage episode about why I thought the New York City soda ban was a bad idea. The courts made that go away. But recently, voters in Berkeley, California voted for a pretty big soda tax instead. How much? One cent per ounce. And it's not just on soda - the tax is on any drinks that are sugar sweetened. And it's pretty big. Previous taxes like that in Washington State were only two cents for a whole 12 ounce can. And that got repealed after just six months of use.

Let's start with the economics. It's absolutely true that when things cost more, people buy less of them. Research shows that when the price of soda goes up, sales decline. When the price goes down, sales go up. So it's likely that this tax will have an effect on sales of sugar sweetened beverages.

But that's not the true goal of this tax. What people really want is to effect obesity. And on that front, the evidence is far less clear. To the research!

In 2013, a systematic review was published in the journal ClinicoEconomics and Outcomes Research that examined all studies that looked at how price increases on non-alcoholic beverages changed consumption, caloric intake, and weight. There were 55 studies that met inclusion criteria. They found that while price increases led to reduced consumption of specific products, people often replaced the calories elsewhere. In other words, people's caloric intake didn't go down as much as expected. There was almost no evidence of weight loss. And when it was found, it was really small and often insignificant.

Obesity is a complex problem that requires holistic solutions. I understand the desire to target scapegoats and it's hard to defend sugar sweetened beverages. But it's unlikely that this policy is gonna work as desired.

 Canadian Travel Ban

And not three weeks after we talked about why a travel ban was a terrible idea to control the Ebola epidemic, Canada went ahead and enacted a travel ban. Really, Canada? Don't you watch Healthcare Triage News? And don't smirk too much, Australia, 'cause they were only following your lead. Neither country will issue visas to people who live in countries in West Africa hit by the Ebola epidemic. Didn't Canada learn anything from the SARS outbreak? As Canadian news outlets have reported, advisories against travel during the SARS outbreak hurt their economy significantly and likely did little good. We've already gone through the arguments as to why this is a bad idea. Go watch the episode: it still is. Health policy should make us healthier. Let's try a bit harder next week, OK?