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Does Navajo Nation Junk Food Tax Signal a Shift?

It’s no secret that Americans are dealing with health issues stemming from their food choices. Nearly two-thirds of people over 20 years of age are overweight, and a third of Americans over age 20 are obese. Obesity is known to lead to a variety of health issues, including Type 2 Diabetes, higher cholesterol, increased blood pressure, more body fat and insulin resistance. Globally, nearly 1 billion adults are overweight, with nearly 300 million adults classifying as obese.

These startling statistics add context to the Navajo Nation decision to impose a 2% “sin tax” on junk food, including pastries, sodas, desserts, fried foods, sweetened beverages and chips. In essence, anything considered to provide “minimal-to-no-nutritional value” is subject to the tax. The historic tax is the first of its kind within U.S. jurisdictions, but has been many years in the making. Other jurisdictions have gone half-way with soda taxes, including Berkeley, CA. Mexico also instituted a fat and sugar tax initiative a year ago, and preliminary reports show that half of Mexican consumers have curtailed their soda consumption. Nearly 98% now recognize that soda can lead to diabetes and other health issues.

All eyes will be on the Navajo Nation to see if the decision is effective at curbing the rate of obesity and its related illnesses throughout the jurisdiction. Although this is not a new debate in the United States, few jurisdictions are willing to add the tax to junk food because most consumers do not want their purchasing choices eroded by a new tax. Food producers, as well, do not want to deal with the additional taxes, the cost of which will most likely be passed onto consumers.

Still, the movement towards a healthier America would benefit us all. The U.S. government and other food organizations would rather focus more on proactive campaigns and deals aimed at changing consumer behavior. This may not be a bad idea, as a punitive tax to improve health can be seen as restricting, even if the intended result is to improve health across the board. It might be easier to improve eating habits and health through advertising featuring athletes and stars to promote fruits and vegetables.

Do you think the new Navajo junk food tax is the wave of the future? Or are proactive campaigns aimed at changing eating habits a more successful alternative?