Taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks and snack foods may benefit poorer households the most, according to new research.
Using data from 13 countries, the experts show that changing the price of unhealthy products alters consumption across the board, yet the impact differs due to socioeconomic status. The greatest health benefits from tax rises are for people on a low income as they respond the most to price changes, and suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases, they argue.
The main focus of the study, published in the Lancet, was on low and middle-income countries. However, most of the findings are relevant for all countries, including the UK.
For example, the sugar levy on sweetened drinks, which came into force on April 6th, “will go a long way to helping poorer people become healthier and should also ease the burden of chronic diseases on the NHS”, said Franco Sassi, Professor of international health policy and economics at Imperial College Business School, London.
The evidence will help counter fears that such taxes will necessarily disproportionately harm the poor.
Indeed, Sassi’s paper is one of five published together in the Lancet to demonstrate how taxes can help curb rising rates of chronic diseases and tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Bringing together data from across the globe, the studies present “strong evidence” that taxes on unhealthy products have the potential to produce major health gains among the poorest in society.
Sassi said: “No amount of money, however small, is trivial for low income households, especially in low income countries. But the extra tax expenditures involved should not deter governments from implementing a policy that may disproportionately benefit the health and welfare of lower-income households.”
Dr Rachel Nugent, chair of the Lancet taskforce on NCDs and economics added: “Taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains, and the evidence shows these can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society.”