Pilot Grants

Understanding Low-income Parents’ Perceptions of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax

Statement of Problem

Childhood obesity continues to be a significant public health issue, specifically among children in low-income families. Policy initiatives that target childhood obesity have the potential to improve health outcomes, yet they are only effective if they are viewed as relevant and acceptable to community members impacted by the policy. Sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes are a promising public health approach for combatting childhood obesity, but taxes such as the Philadelphia Beverage Tax have been criticized for being regressive, or having a disproportionate effect, on families from low-income backgrounds.

Though SSB taxes are frequently critiqued, we don’t actually have much evidence describing how low-income individuals view this issue to understand if this critique is justified. Furthermore, the disproportionate impact that childhood obesity has on low-income communities begs the question of whether this type of intervention may even be perceived as beneficial. It is especially important to understand parents’ views regarding SSB taxes as their own health behaviors and engagement in local politics shape factors that impact the accessibility and availability of food for their children.  


To further explore this issue, our team seeks to understand the perceived fairness and effectiveness of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, including the innovative approach of designating tax revenue to fund expansion of free pre-kindergarten and improve the city’s parks and recreation, which are two realms that could significantly benefit low-income families. We will do this by conducting one-on-one semi-structured interviews with parents of children ages 2 to 11 years who receive Medicaid and who have lived in Philadelphia since before the tax went into effect in 2017.

The perceived fairness and effectiveness of a new policy can influence its acceptance and successful implementation. Thus, characterizing these two components of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax will help inform current and future SSB taxes so that they are designed to be as effective, acceptable and equitable as possible.

Next Steps

Our hope is that results from this study will inform Philadelphia City government so that if low-income parents perceive the tax as extremely unfair or ineffective, adjustments can be made to the tax policy, the use of its revenue and the promotion of its impact. Additionally, as this will be the first qualitative study of a SSB tax in a city with such a large low-income population, we hope that our findings will help advise cities with similar demographics seeking to implement related food polices. 

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Understanding Low-income Parents’ Perceptions of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax [Online]. Available at: http://www.policylab.chop.edu [Accessed: plug in date accessed here]. 

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