Good and bad food taxes

Subsidising plant foods and taxing animal foods would transform public health

An American study modelled potential health impacts of changing the pricing of foods. They focused on how these price changes could prevent premature deaths from major diseases – heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The proposed changes were 10 or 30 per cent subsidies on fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, and nuts and seeds and 10 or 30 per cent tax increase on processed meat, unprocessed red meats and sugar-sweetened beverages. The model scenarios took into account socioeconomic status (people with lower incomes responding more to price changes) and some other important factors. Perhaps predictably, the potential impact of these scenarios was dramatic – the 10 per cent price change could prevent 23,174 deaths from the three diseases each year, whilst the 30 per cent change could save 63,268 lives. The study didn’t speculate on how many cases of each disease could be prevented from occurring in the first place but it’s very likely that the numbers would be in hundreds of thousands.

Peñalvo JL et al., 2017. The potential impact of food taxes and subsidies on cardiovascular disease and diabetes burden and disparities in the United States. BMC Medicine. 15(1):208.