Substantial health benefits could be achieved by implementing taxes on sugary drinks and foods high in saturated fats, as well as subsidizing fruit and vegetables.

According to researchers, the foods that should be taxed are those which pose serious health risks to the general public. Soft drinks are known to increase blood pressure and can cause obesity.

Foods high in saturated fat increase a person’s levels of bad cholesterol which increases their risk of developing serious life threatening conditions such as atherosclerosis, stroke and even heart attack.

Foods that are high in saturated fat include:

  • butter, lard and cream
  • whole milk
  • cakes, pastries and chocolates
  • potato chips
  • cheese
  • fatty meats

The study, published in this week’s PLOS Medicine, was carried out by researchers in New Zealand from the University of Auckland and the University of Otago. They used modeling studies to find links between the consumption of foods, their pricing strategies and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

In their analysis of 32 studies, from several different countries, they found that by increasing the prices of soft drinks and foods high in saturated fat the levels of their consumption dropped. For each 1% increase in the price of fatty foods they predicted a 0.02% drop in consumption and for a 10% increase in the price of sodas they predicted a drop in consumption of as much as 24%.

Additionally, they predicted that by decreasing the price of fruits and vegetables there would be a considerable increase in consumption. A 10% decrease in prices would lead to an 8% increase in consumption. However the authors did note that the price decrease could lead to people purchasing less of other healthy products, which may be bad for their health.

The researchers estimated that the biggest response in consumption related to a change in the price of foods or drinks is among those belonging to a low income socioeconomic group. The change would be less significant among those on higher incomes.

The researchers said:

“Based on modelling studies, taxes on carbonated drinks and saturated fat and subsidies on fruits and vegetables are associated with beneficial dietary change, with the potential for improved health.”

They added:

“It must be noted that the impact of any given food tax or subsidy is likely to differ by country depending on factors such as the type of tax system implemented, health status, co-existent marketing, cultural norms, expendable income, and the social role of food. Given the limitations of the current evidence, robust evaluations must be planned when food pricing policies are implemented by governments.”

The authors suggest that additional research will be needed regarding compensatory purchasing and long-term population health outcomes for different socio-economic populations.

Yesterday a new study reported that salty food increases the desire for sugary, unhealthy drinks in children. The authors noted that the combination of sugary food with sugary drinks increases the risk of obesity. Perhaps tax on these sugary drinks could help prevent obesity in childhood and later in adulthood.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist