The current food environment is continuously highlighted as a
problem for public health. And so there is a strong focus in both
public policy and research circles to determine which strategies
could lead to a healthier food environment.
One potential strategy that is widely recommended by public health
experts is the use of fiscal/taxation policies to decrease the
consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages. By making unhealthy
foods and beverages relatively more expensive than healthy foods
and beverages it is hoped that this would alter the composition of
the average diet in a favorable manner.
This is based on economic theory and evidence showing that most
foods are relatively price “inelastic”. This means that increases
in the prices of particular foods can be expected to lead to
reductions in the purchase of those foods.
But there have also been some concerns raised about the potential
effectiveness of strategies aimed at taxing a certain nutrient
(e.g. sugar) or a group of foods. There are worries that such
policies wouldn’t lead to healthier diets; with people either not
changing behavior or just substituting in other processed foods
that industry has formulated to avoid a specific nutrient tax.
So what does the current evidence say?
With a number of countries having implemented a range of taxes or
health levies, what lessons can we learn from these? And what does
the best public health nutrition currently tell us about the likely
effectiveness of different policies or interventions?
To get to some evidence-based answers, Dr. Kathryn Backholer, an
Associate Professor at Deakin University, is on the podcast to
discuss the current state of the evidence on various taxes and
levies on different nutrients and unhealthy foods.