Researchers examine the policy of taxing unhealthy foods and drinks in order to reduce rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions linked to poor eating habits.
Some cities and nations have enacted taxes on “junk foods,” primarily on sugar-sweetened beverages and energy-dense processed foods, including Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and the city of Berkeley, California. Although these taxes can influence what people eat and drink, they also have important limits and costs, according to a recent report by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
Researchers, led by Donald Marron, PhD, examined the policy of taxing unhealthy foods and drinks in order to reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions linked to poor eating habits. The report notes that it is not possible to offer a blanket assessment of whether taxing unhealthy foods and drinks makes sense because of the complexity of different social, cultural, economic, and biologic factors.
Nonetheless, the report examines a wide range of factors that determine the benefits and costs of using taxes to improve nutrition.
The report suggests that policymakers carefully consider how they use tax revenues. Revenues can also be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, obesity prevention, and assistance to low-income families.
Finally, more study is needed about how taxes change overall diet including food in restaurants, schools, and other locations outside the home. Well-designed taxes can help, but they are a limited tool for a complex challenge.
“Even the best-designed taxes on unhealthy foods and drinks are not a silver bullet, and poorly designed taxes can impose burdens without yielding commensurate health benefits,” the report notes.