Cayce Hook

Department of Psychology

The role of choice and personal responsibility beliefs in American attitudes towards a soda tax


Although research suggests that a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) would effectively reduce the health and cost burdens of diabetes and heart disease, proposals for such measures have frequently been met with public resistance. In American culture more generally, public health measures designed to curtail or influence individual health-damaging behaviors—including mandatory seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws, compulsory child vaccination, restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and bans on smoking in public places—have historically been decried as “nanny state” measures that subvert individual autonomy and displace personal responsibility for health. My research investigates whether traditional public health appeals for a soda tax are resisted because they activate “nanny state” concerns, and whether there are ways to describe an SSB tax without activating these concerns. I also examine whether public health appeals may backfire by encouraging counter-arguing, ultimately resulting in people becoming more entrenched in the belief that responsibility for protecting health lies within individuals and not with the state.