Online Program

Berkeley's soda tax: What can we learn from the news coverage?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 9:30 a.m. - 9:50 a.m.

Pamela Mejia, MPH, MS, Research Team, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Laura Nixon, MPH, Research Team, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Lori Dorfman, DrPH, Public Health Institute, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Alisha Somji, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA

In 2014, voters in Berkeley, California passed the nation’s first tax on sugary drinks. The tax inspired vigorous public debate and drew widespread media attention, in part due to the beverage industry’s aggressive anti-tax campaigning. We wanted to better understand the debate over this precedent-setting policy, and its implications both for future campaigns, and for stakeholders from different sectors.


We analyzed local and national news coverage of the Berkeley soda tax during the campaign and in the months following the election. Using ethnographic content analysis, we explored how the debate was framed in the news, and how pro- and anti-tax arguments evolved. We compared these findings to coverage of earlier, unsuccessful soda tax campaigns in California and Colorado.


Our quantitative and qualitative analysis describes the frequency of news articles about the soda tax, and how they were framed. We explore the key arguments that appeared in the coverage, and assess how different sectors affected by the tax appeared in the news, including the beverage industry, local businesses and policy makers, and health practitioners.


As policies to limit sugary drink consumption are debated across the country, public health practitioners and policy makers can draw on lessons learned from the successful soda tax campaign in Berkeley. Our findings will help stakeholders from different sectors anticipate how soda tax policy debates might look in their own communities, and to identify messages and media advocacy strategies that could support their efforts.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Communication and informatics
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Identify key messages that appeared in news coverage of the soda tax debate in Berkeley, CA. Compare the arguments that were made by different sectors such as business, education, and faith communities about the proposed soda tax. Discuss strategies for developing effective messages in other communities pursuing policies that target sugary drinks.

Keyword(s): Media, Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the main author on studies of the news coverage of soda taxes and land use policies.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.