Unhealthy snack taxes

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

Snack taxes are generally applied to unhealthy products high in sugar and fat. Adding an excise tax (a fee per ounce) or a sales tax (a percentage of the product’s price) to the current price of unhealthy products increases the price of unhealthy snacks for consumers. The funds generated may be used to subsidize healthy foods or to support other public health ventures.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced unhealthy food consumption

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved weight status

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that snack taxes reduce consumption of unhealthy foods, especially when taxes are larger and more broadly applied12, 34, 5, 6. Unhealthy snack taxes increase the price of snacks for consumers7; taxes that change the relative prices of healthy and unhealthy foods have been shown to affect both consumption patterns and obesity levels3, 8. Small taxes appear to have little effect on consumption, however, larger price increases may more effectively change consumption1, 2. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Increasing fast food prices has been associated with improved weight status, particularly among adolescents9, and a higher likelihood of fruit and vegetable consumption2. Broader application of snack taxes may be necessary to avoid shifts in unhealthy eating behavior7, for example, model-based studies suggest that a saturated fat-only tax may increase sodium consumption3. States without snack (or sugar sweetened beverage) taxes are more likely to have high increases in state-level obesity prevalence than states with snack taxes in place10. Taxes in small geographic areas may also have minimal effects on consumption, since consumers can easily purchase unhealthy snacks in neighboring areas without such taxes7

Price changes are likely to have a greater effect on the purchasing decisions of low income families than higher income families, as low income families spend a larger portion of their income on food11, and the decision making of youth than adults2. Greater reductions in consumption of unhealthy snacks may lead to more health benefits and larger reductions in obesity rates among low income families and youth2, 3, 11.

Snack taxes have the potential to raise significant funds that could be used to subsidize fresh fruits and vegetable purchases for low income households or support other obesity prevention efforts2. States can also provide tax credits or rebates to low income households to encourage substitutions, minimizing the regressive income effect of such a tax7

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The Navajo Nation is the first US community to pass a tax on junk food; the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014 includes a 2% tax on the sale of all food items with minimal to no nutritional value. All revenue collected from this tax is allocated to the Community Wellness Development Projects Fund, which supports projects to improve the community’s physical and social environment, such as community gardens, healthy food initiatives, farmers’ markets, playgrounds, walking and biking trails, or swimming pools12, 13.   

Bridging the Gap provides annual state sales tax rates for snack products, including candy, chips, pretzels, ice cream, popsicles, milkshakes, and baked goods for all 50 states and Washington DC14.

Footnotes

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1 Niebylski 2015* - Niebylski ML, Redburn KA, Duhaney T, Campbell NR. Healthy food subsidies and unhealthy food taxation: A systematic review of the evidence. Nutrition. 2015;31:787-795.

2 AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514-63.

3 Eyles 2012 - Eyles H, Ni Mhurchu C, Nghiem N, Blakely T. Food pricing strategies, population diets, and non-communicable disease: A systematic review of simulation studies. PLoS Medicine. 2012;9(12):e1001353.

4 Sacks 2011* - Sacks G, Veerman JL, Moodie M, Swinburn B. “Traffic-light” nutrition labelling and “junk-food” tax: A modelled comparison of cost-effectiveness for obesity prevention. International Journal of Obesity. 2011;35(7):1001-9.

5 Epstein 2010* - Epstein LH, Dearing KK, Roba LG, Finkelstein E. The influence of taxes and subsidies on energy purchased in an experimental purchasing study. Psychological Science. 2010;21(3):406-14.

6 French 2001* - French SA, Story M, Jeffrey RW. Environmental influences on eating and physical activity. Annual Review of Public Health. 2001;22:309-35.

7 Cawley 2015* - Cawley J. An economy of scales: A selective review of obesity's economic causes, consequences, and solutions. Journal of Health Economics. 2015;43:244-268.

8 Urban-Engelhard 2009 - Engelhard C, Garson A, Dorn S. Reducing obesity: Policy strategies from the tobacco wars. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2009.

9 Powell 2013* - Powell LM, Chriqui JF, Khan T, Wada R, Chaloupka FJ. Assessing the potential effectiveness of food and beverage taxes and subsidies for improving public health: A systematic review of prices, demand and body weight outcomes. Obesity Reviews. 2013;14(2):110–28.

10 Kim 2006 - Kim D, Kawachi I. Food taxation and pricing strategies to “thin out” the obesity epidemic. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2006;30(5):430-7.

11 Rudd-Friedman 2012 - Friedman R, Brownell K. Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes: An updated policy brief. New Haven: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; 2012.

12 Navajo-Snack tax - The Navajo Nation Council. Resolution of the 22nd Navajo Nation Council: The Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014; 2014:CN-54-14.

13 TNS-Duara 2015 - Tribune News Service (TNS), Duara N. Navajo Nation experiments with junk food tax. Governing the States and Localities. 2015.

14 BTG-Soda or snack - Bridging the Gap (BTG). Soda/snack taxes.

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