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Tax unhealthy foods and subsidize vegetables and fruits

Unhealthy food

In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases recommended implementation of “fiscal measures” to improve diets and health. Soon after, Denmark implemented the first national ‘fat tax’, which on review, the 15-month-long tax resulted in a reduction in saturated fats intake.

The growing trend of overweight and obesity in developing countries, calls for actions to promote healthy eating, especially eating fruits and vegetables to reach the recommended 400gm per day.  Now, according to World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 6.7 million deaths worldwide were attributable to inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption in 2010. In fact, WHO ranks low fruits and vegetables intake as the sixth main risk factor of mortality in the world. Further, when investigations were done on the factors that influence fruits and vegetable consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa, household income, the prices and availability of fruits and vegetables relative to other prices came out as the leading influencing factors.

The situation is not about to get easier considering the cheaper, more available food options are often processed, calorie dense, high in salt and sugar. Bearing this in mind and considering the risk factors that these foods pose, levying taxes could be justified to pay for health costs and to reduce their consumption.

The effect of fiscal policy on diet, obesity and chronic disease

Reviews have shown that taxes and subsidies have the potential to influence consumption and health, particularly when they are large.

  • Consumption: taxes reduce the consumption of the unhealthier taxed food, -particularly among younger consumers and lower-income groups- while subsidizing increases the consumption of the fruits and vegetables.
  • Weight: taxes on ‘fattening’ foods can help reduce weight and increase consumption of a high fibre diet.
  • Health: healthier eating promotes health and reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases.
  • The two could also reinforce efforts to educate consumers as they become aware of the taxed unhealthy options and the subsidized healthy foods.

With the market opening up for so many fast food franchises, the soul of the nation needs to have a little meeting else, vision 2030 will only be a dream. I mean, a hungry-unhealthy nation only makes an unproductive workforce.

Christine Nderitu

Licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through health education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. She writes a weekly (Monday) nutrition column in the People Daily and is experienced in nutrition management, research, health education and promotion in; HIV/AIDS, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Maternal and Child Health and Non-Communicable Diseases. She has been engaged in these activities since 2011. Christine feels the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour. And humanity-we have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.