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NewsBites June 2018 Issue

US Junk Food Tax Is Feasible

A national tax on unhealthy and nonessential “junk foods,” like salty snacks and sugary drinks, would be both legal and administratively doable, according to an analysis in the American Journal of Public Health. A tax could encourage consumers to make better food choices and create an incentive for food manufacturers to make their products less unhealthy.

The study reviewed scientific literature on ways to identify the foods to target in a junk food tax; existing food tax laws and policies in the US and abroad; and the possible options for implementing such a tax. The most feasible approach, the researchers concluded, would be a graduated federal excise tax, similar to the one that taxes wine based on the alcohol content. An excise tax on junk foods would increase with greater amounts of unhealthy ingredients, such as added sugars and sodium. The tax would act more broadly than the taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages some countries and US cities have adopted. “Junk food taxes have the potential to substantially reduce the disease burden that results from unhealthy food and beverage consumption in the United States,” says Renata Micha, RD, PhD, an associate research professor at the Friedman School and one of the study’s authors.

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