Junk food tax is legally and administratively viable, finds new analysis

An original analysis by researchers at New York University College of Global Public Health and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University finds that a federal tax on junk food is both legally and administratively feasible.

The article, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, points to using an excise tax paid by junk food manufacturers, rather than a sales tax for consumers.

“Economic and social environments can influence food choice in beneficial and harmful directions. Our finding that a federal manufacturer excise junk food tax — defined through product category or combined category-nutrient approaches — appears to be legally and administratively feasible and has strong implications for nutrition policy,” said Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, assistant professor of public health policy and management at NYU College of Global Public Health and the article’s lead author.

Unhealthy eating is a leading risk factor for obesity and other life-threatening diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. One strategy governments use to improve diet is creating policies that change the price of food and beverages, either through taxing unhealthy foods or offering subsidies for healthier foods.

While local taxes on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are rapidly growing in popularity and political acceptance, the idea of a national soda or junk food tax – which would have far broader effects than local taxes – has not yet gained political traction.

“Junk food taxes have the potential to substantially reduce the disease burden that results from unhealthy food and beverage consumption in the United States,” said Renata Micha, RD, PhD, associate research professor at the Friedman School at Tufts and one of the study’s senior authors.

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