An article published January 17, 2018 on Vox highlights the successes of junk food taxes enacted in two countries (Mexico & Hungary), summarizes a recently published AJPH article from NYU & Tufts researchers making the case for a junk food tax, and quotes both Drs. Barry Popkin and Lindsey Smith Taillie on junk food spending and the potential effects of these taxes.
The Vox article highlights that research has shown junk food taxes in both Mexico and Hungary curbed purchases of junk food and “changed people’s eating habits for the better.” Several research publications from the GFRP team are mentioned, including the first year evaluation of Mexico’s tax (published in PLOS Medicine) and the more recent evaluation of high- and low-purchasers of junk food (published in Preventive Medicine). While the tax in Mexico was based solely on calories, the tax in Hungary included some nutrition criteria, such as sugar or saturated fat – which may have encouraged many reformulations across the industry, according to the WHO.
These changes should help everyone, but may be a bigger help those who eat more junk food:
Another key finding from the Mexico studies and Hungary studies was that the junk food tax seemed to have the greatest effect among low-income groups and people who were big consumers of junk food prior to the tax.
“We think people who consume a lot of junk or soda are the most responsive to these taxes,” said Lindsey Smith Taillie, a University of North Carolina nutrition epidemiologist who has been evaluating the Mexico junk food tax.
Since low-income people tend to consume the most junk food, and are also at the greatest risk of diet-related disease, “this suggests a junk food tax might be regressive on income and progressive on healthfulness of food purchases.” In other words, the taxes hit the poorest people the hardest, but in doing so, may also move them away from junk food, Smith Taillie explained.