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Article: Taxes on unhealthy foods

This article in the British Medical Journal argues that taxes on unhealthy foods could result in significant health gains. The article highlights a range of trials, studies and natural experiments (ie. observational studies) that examine the effect of price changes on behaviour. 

It concludes that: “Health related food taxes could improve health. Existing evidence suggests that taxes are likely to shift consumption in the desired direction, although policy-makers need to be wary of changes in other important nutrients. However, the tax would need to be at least 20% to have a significant effect on population health.”

It says that the key elements of a successful health related food tax are as follows:

  • Taxing a wide range of unhealthy foods or nutrients is likely to result in greater health benefits than would accrue from narrow taxes; although the strongest evidence base is for a tax on sugar sweetened beverages
  • Taxation needs to be at least 20% to have a significant effect on obesity and cardiovascular disease
  • Taxes on unhealthy foods should ideally be combined with subsidies on healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.



Mytton O T, Clarke D, Rayner M (2012). Taxing unhealthy food and drinks to improve health, BMJ 2012;344:e2931

You can read the article here (subscription access needed).

An editorial on the article, by Susan Jebb, Chair of the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal Food Network argues that “there is an intellectual inconsistency in accepting poor diets as the product of a complex web of determinants while advocating single issue solutions.”

You can read the editorial here.

The BMJ has press released the article here.

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