Could Food Price Changes Save Lives?

Could Food Price Changes Save Lives?

Subsidies for healthy foods and taxes on unhealthy foods could reduce deaths from stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially among Americans with lower socioeconomic status

BOSTON (Nov. 27, 2017)—Changing the prices of seven foods, including fruits, vegetables and sugar-sweetened beverages, could reduce deaths due to stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and address health disparities in the United States, finds a study led by researchers from Tufts University.

In the study, published today in BMC Medicine, the team of researchers used a comparative risk assessment model to estimate the potential effects of price subsidies on healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, and taxes on processed and unprocessed red meats and sugary drinks, on the number of annual deaths from cardiometabolic diseases in the United States.

The researchers found that if the prices of all seven dietary items were altered 10 percent each, an estimated 23,000 deaths per year could be prevented; this corresponds to 3.4 percent of all cardiometabolic disease deaths in the United States. A 30 percent price change almost tripled that approximation with an estimation of 63,000 deaths prevented per year, or 9.2 percent of all cardiometabolic disease deaths.

“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that national data sets have been pooled and analyzed to investigate the influence of food subsidies and taxes on disparities in cardiometabolic deaths in the United States,” said lead and corresponding author José L. Peñalvo, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. “We found that modest price changes on healthy and unhealthy foods would help decrease overall cardiometabolic deaths and also reduce disparities between socio-economic strata in the U.S.—the largest changes coming from reducing the prices of fruits and vegetables and increasing the price of sugary drinks.”

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