Fighting obesity with taxes on junk food

Taxing high-fat and sugary junk food is a more effective way to fight obesity than making healthy foods like fruit and vegetables more affordable, according to a University of Buffalo in New York study, reports Agence France Presse.

Researchers, led by psychologist Leonard Epstein, gave 42 mothers just over 22 dollars to spend at a virtual "supermarket," told to imagine their cupboards were bare, and told to buy a weeks worth of food for their family. They each went shopping five times.

 

The choice they had was 30 healthy and 30 junk food items, four healthy beverages -- two types of juice, skim milk and water -- and four sugary drinks.

On the first shopping trip, the prices of all the food and drink items were on par with those in a local supermarket. Twice, the prices of healthier foods -- those that deliver more nutrients for fewer calories -- were lowered, and on the remaining two shopping trips, the prices of the unhealthy food and drink items were raised.The researchers found that hiking the price of junk food, as would happen with a so-called "sin tax," was more effective at getting the women to buy a week's shopping that was lower in overall calories than was cutting the price of the healthy food items. In fact, cutting the prices of healthy foods like broccoli, yogurt, grapes, eggs and fish actually increased the overall calorie value of the foods and drinks the women put in their shopping carts.

 

"It appears that mothers took the money they saved on subsidized fruits and vegetables and treated the family to less healthy alternatives, such as chips and soda pop," said the authors of the study, published this week in Psychological Science.

Taxing junk food, on the other hand, seemed to do the trick. The mothers cut back on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and bought more healthy foods that were lower in calories. In fact, taxing junk foods by 10 percent resulted in the shoppers buying 14.4 percent less high-fat and sugary foods and drinks. That meant their week's shopping contained 6.5 percent fewer calories, the study said.

 

And what does this study prove? All it says to me is that lower prices are more desirable to mom than higher prices.