Study Says Taxing Unhealthy Food Cuts Obesity? Nope

Science Fiction“Taxing unhealthy food helps cut obesity, says global study. Mexico is leading the way in implementing taxes on unhealthy food options, successfully helping to tackle obesity and related health issues.” This is the start of a breathtaking press release from Imperial College London.

But those opening lines are more fiction than fact. First, the publication is a review, not a new study. Second, this review does not find any evidence of cuts to obesity rates resulting from taxing unhealthy foods. Perhaps because there is none. Just a logical presumption that if people eat less of the bad stuff, obesity will fade away.

Finally, the assertion that “Mexico is leading the way” is unfortunate because it is a half-truth. A decade ago, Mexico did lead the way on implementing junk food taxes. However, the “tackling obesity and related health issues” claim is clearly not true. Obesity rates in Mexico keep climbing and so does the burden of chronic diseases that result.

We wish it were true. But wishing does not make it so.

The Need for
Effective Prevention Strategies

The whole world needs effective prevention strategies for obesity. Treatment is advancing by leaps and bounds. At the same time, prevention is still stuck on a false presumption that obesity is a simple problem of bad food and bad behaviors.

This analysis of taxing unhealthy foods reaches the easy conclusion that if we tax those foods, people will consume less of them. That much is surely true.

But is is not at all clear that the result will be less obesity or less of the chronic diseases that result from it. Crafting policies to produce a healthier environment that triggers less obesity is more complicated. People can get fat while eating only “healthy” food. It is more than food alone that is causing the relentless rise in obesity around the world.

Simple solutions for complex problems are appealing works of fiction. They distract us from solving hard problems.

Click here for the review in Food Policy and here for the exquisitely misleading press release about it.

Science Fiction, illustration by Milton Luros / Wikimedia Commons

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April 23, 2024

One Response to “Study Says Taxing Unhealthy Food Cuts Obesity? Nope”

  1. April 23, 2024 at 11:02 pm, Allen Browne said: