April 2, 2018

Should Junk Food Be Taxed?

As obesity and obesity-related diseases continue to be on the rise around the globe, many governments are looking for policy solutions to help improve the public’s health. Some countries are implementing a “junk food” tax, but does it work?

What would be included?

High-sugar, high-fat processed foods and drinks have been shown to be a significant risk factor in obesity and obesity-related diseases, so by making these items more expensive, supporters of the tax expect less people will eat them and obesity prevalence will decrease.

Foods that are more likely to fall under a junk food tax are those high in sugar, calories, and fat and low in nutrient value – like soda, for example. These foods are considered “nonessential” and have been shown to lead to obesity. The goal of the tax is essentially to discourage shoppers from frequently eating foods that might negatively affect their health while guiding them to purchase more nutritious food.

Is it successful?

Berkeley, California, was the first U.S. city to pass a tax on sugary drinks. The 2014 tax added one cent per ounce to all sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened drinks. The tax seems to be working – residents of Berkeley seem to be purchasing less sugary drinks and more water and other sugarless beverages (like tea).

In 2014, Mexico also implemented a tax on sodas and “nonessential” snacks. Chips, frozen desserts, cakes, and cookies are subject to an 8% tax while sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, are subject to roughly a 10% tax. Research shows that the tax has had a big impact on shoppers’ purchasing habits, especially shoppers from lower-income households, who reduced their purchase of taxed foods by about 10%.

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Over time, the hope is that this continued trend may have a positive impact on public health and will reduce obesity prevalence, which affects over one-third of Mexican adults and is rising at an alarming rate. In fact, by 2050, it is projected that only 12% of men and 9% of women in Mexico will be considered normal weight – the rest of the population being considered overweight or obese.

What’s next?

The examples in the United States and Mexico show that taxes potentially help shoppers make more nutritious choices, but their long-term impact is yet to be determined and not everyone is on board.

What do you think about taxing high-sugar foods? Do you support it? Share your thoughts!

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