Food Taxes and Penalization are Not Solutions to Public Health Problems

Alex Pietrowski, Staff Writer
Waking Times

A recent study conducted by RTI International and Cornell University and published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics makes a clear point that a large percentage of shoppers are not aware of sales tax implications when purchasing various foods and beverages.

In one of my recent posts, Down Our Throats, I discussed the failure of the idea of improving public health via public policy where governments tax unhealthy foods and penalize vendors for over-serving. Are taxes the answer? Clearly not. In fact, common sense points to this being an issue that is resolved by the individual, but, the problem of poor health resulting from bad diet has grown into such an epidemic that it is helpful to look at this from many angles.

This study shows that increasing sales taxes on soft drinks and processed or sugary foods is unlikely to be an effective approach to anti-obesity policy and promoting good public health. It reports that one-third of the 483 shoppers surveyed in upstate New York State did not know what sales tax percentage was being charged on various items they bought. Often, the fact that sales tax is added at the register misguides shoppers who pay more attention to shelf prices. Yuqing Zheng, Ph.D., a research economist at RTI and the study’s leading author, elaborates:

“Most consumers do not have the knowledge of varying sales taxes on different grocery items required to better inform their choices. Although these taxes are effective in raising revenue for states, they are unlikely to be effective in promoting healthy food choices.” (source: RTI International)

  • Plainly, many consumers do not even pay attention to the taxes charged for each particular item they buy. Furthermore, criminalization of the sales of certain items, such as soft drinks, which are heavily marketed to consumers, is a terrible answer to this conundrum.

    According to researchers who conducted the study, a more effective strategy to promote healthier food choices might be to increase the tax on the production and distribution (i.e., manufacturers, bottlers, wholesalers, retailers, and distributors) of less healthy food. Doing so would help consumers see the increased the shelf price of less healthy items. (source: RTI International)

    The American Heart Association recently released its annual “Heart and stroke statistics” report, although offering some good news (deaths due to chronic conditions caused by unhealthy habits, such as cardiovascular disease, have fallen by one-third since 1999), it also gives a strong warning: “If we as a population keep up our unhealthy habits and behaviors, look for cardiovascular disease rates to stop falling and start climbing.” (source: Harvard Health Publications)

    A solution to this dreadful problem is not easy, and since governments apparently only have the tools of taxation and criminalization at their disposal, which only suck more revenue from the public while making life more difficult for people, worthwhile public leadership on this issue is unlikely, and the American public will remain at the mercy of the food industry. With 78 million adults with high blood pressure, 32 million with high cholesterol and 20 million Americans with diabetes, staying informed and personally proactive when it comes to healthy eating is imperative.

    About the Author

    Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.  He is a staff writer for, and an avid student of Yoga and life.

    This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.


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