Potential of food and beverage taxes and subsidies to change behaviour and prevent disease — ASN Events

 Potential of food and beverage taxes and subsidies to change behaviour and prevent disease (#34)

Anne Marie Thow 1
  1. University of Sydney, Eveleigh, NSW, Australia
There is growing international evidence to suggest that subsidies for healthy foods and taxes on less healthy foods is an effective measure to change food prices and consumer behavior, based on two systematic reviews of the literature on fiscal intervention (2000-2009; 2009-2012). The quality of evidence is improving but continues to rely heavily on modelled and self-reported evidence. The options for fiscal intervention most likely to improve diets and reduce body weight are soft drink taxes, fruit and vegetable subsidies, and combinations of nutrient profiling taxes and subsidies. These strategies have been found to be highly effective for taxes and subsidies in the range of 15-35%. These options for intervention are also the least administratively burdensome and are less likely to have negative differential effects such as regressivity.
Another critical dimension of fiscal intervention is effective implementation and administration. These interventions must be coherent with the national (and global) fiscal policy context. Case studies of implementation success and failure indicate that: 1) taxes can be effective in changing prices of target foods; 2) it is important to align proposals for public health nutrition taxation with the priorities of the Ministry of Finance and to use an existing tool such as excise taxation; 3) taxes targeting single nutrients are complex to administer and may have unintended consequences; 4) fiscal intervention may be more sustainable where government commitment to health is explicit; and 5) a tax that affects a majority proportion of the food industry is likely to be unfeasible.