Could Taxing Packaged Foods Reduce Obesity?

If most foods created by the food industry are unhealthy, why not place a stiff tax on all of them and use the revenue to subsidize healthier food?

This bold proposal, from Boston-area researchers, appears as commentary in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The researchers from Tufts University, Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital wrote that their plan would surely meet strong opposition from both the food and restaurant industries but that it could help people make meaningful dietary changes and substantially reduce health care costs.

At issue is the higher cost of healthy food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats and fish, which cost on average about $1.50 more per person per day compared to unhealthy fare, the researchers said.

The researchers propose a 10 to 30 percent tax on foods from chain restaurants and on all packaged foods essentially, all foods except products directly from a farm.

“With a modest 10 to 30 percent tax on most packaged foods, healthy foods such as fruits, nuts and vegetables could be subsidized to cost pennies to consumers,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, lead author on the JAMA commentary and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “This would dramatically reshape the food supply, help to reduce nutritional and health disparities amongst the poor and other disadvantaged Americans, and potentially save billions of dollars a year in health care costs for diet-related diseases.”