Food Pricing, Taxes, and Agricultural Policy

Austrian dish

The cost of food, high or low, influences what people buy and eat. Taxing sugary drinks could lead people to cut back on how much they drink, and could raise billions of dollars for obesity prevention programs. Repositioning priorities on agricultural subsidies-away from commodities that get processed into cheap, high-calorie food, and toward the fruits and vegetables that are lacking in most people’s diets-could make healthy foods more affordable. It’s a complex topic, and economists, farmers, and public health experts debate whether farm policies are indeed feeding the obesity epidemic. But it’s clear that we need to look at broad policy changes to transform our obesogenic food supply into one that promotes good health and a healthy weight.

Here is a brief summary of food pricing and agricultural subsidy-related recommendations for obesity prevention, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the National Governors’ Association, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.Food Pricing and Taxes

Food Pricing and Taxes

Tax foods of minimal nutritional value (“junk food”), to decrease consumption (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

  • Tax sugar-sweetened beverages (1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,10)
  • Tax other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods (1,4,6,7)

Earmark tax revenues from sugar-sweetened beverage taxes or other taxes for obesity prevention efforts (2,3,5,6)

Lower the relative cost of healthy foods through subsidies or other measures (6,7,8,11,12,13)

Agricultural Policy

Increase federal funding to support fruit and vegetable production, such as through changing the U.S. Farm Bill(see footnote) (1,2,13,14,15,16,17)

  • Remove fruit and vegetable planting restrictions in commodity food program (14,15,16)
  • Provide additional training, loans, research, and marketing support to fruit and vegetable farmers (13,14,15,16)
  • Increase preservation efforts for farmland devoted to fruit and vegetable production (13,14)
  • Develop a fruit and vegetable subsidy program (2,17)

Increase local support of production, processing, and distribution of locally grown fruits and vegetables (12,14,16,17)

Increase government procurement of locally grown fruits and vegetables (13,14,16)

* In addition to covering agricultural subsidies, the U.S. Farm Bill budget covers food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) and the National School Lunch Program.

Food Pricing and Taxes and Agricultural Policy-Source List

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention and Treatment of Child Overweight and Obesity: Policy Opportunities Tool. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010. Accessed October 4, 2010.

2. Frieden TR, Dietz W, Collins J. Reducing childhood obesity through policy change: acting now to prevent obesity. Health Aff (Millwood). 2010;29:357-63.

3. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Reducing Junk Food Marketing to Children: State and Local Policy Options for Advocates and Policy Makers. Washington, D.C.: Center for Science in the Public Interest; 2010.

4. Obesity Policy Coalition. Obesity Prevention: Priorities for Action. Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Obesity Policy Coalition; 2007.

5. Friedman R. Strategies to Prevent Overweight and Obesity. New Haven: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity; 2010.

6. Engelhard CL, Dorn S. Reducing Obesity: Policy strategies from the tobacco wars. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2009.

7. Levi J, Segal LM, St. Laurent R, Kohn D. F as in Fat 2011: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future. Washington, D.C.: Trust for America’s Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2011.

8. Institute of Medicine. Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences Press; 2009.

9. Mulheron J, Vonasek K. Shaping a Healthier Generation: Successful state strategies to prevent childhood obesity. Washington, D.C.: National Governors’ Association; 2009.

10. Antos J, Bertko J, Chernew M, et al. Bending the Curve: Effective steps to address long-term health care spending growth. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution; 2009.

11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC Guide to Fruit & Vegetable Strategies to Increase Access, Availability, and Consumption. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2010.

12. Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2009;58:1-26.

13. Leadership for Health Communities. Improving Access to Healthy Foods: A guide for policy-makers. Washington, D.C.: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2007.

14. Krueger JE, Krub KR, Hayes LA. Planting the Seeds for Public Health: How the Farm Bill can help farmers to produce and distribute healthy foods. Saint Paul: Farmers’ Legal Action Group; 2010 February 2010.

15. Wallinga D. Agricultural policy and childhood obesity: a food systems and public health commentary. Health Aff (Millwood). 2010;29:405-10.

16. Lee V, Mikkelsen L, Srikantharajah J, Cohen L. Promising Strategies for Creating Healthy Eating and Active Living Environments. Oakland: Prevention Institute; 2008.

17. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity; 2010.