266705 Taxing and labeling unhealthy food: Making public policies more effective

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 : 9:10 AM - 9:30 AM

Brian Elbel, PhD, MPH , NYU School of Medicine and NYC Wagner School of Public Service, New York University, New York, NY
Tod Mijanovich, PhD , Center for Health and Public Service Research, New York University, New York, NY
Beth Dixon, PhD, MPH , Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, New York University, New York, NY
Courtney Abrams, MA , Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY
J. Morgan Hills, MPH , Department of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY
Matthew Beyrouty , Department of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY
Background: Taxing and labeling unhealthy food and drinks have been proposed to shift food choices towards healthier items and address obesity rates. Preliminary evidence suggests such methods could be minimally effective depending on how they are structured.

Methods: We constructed a snack shop in a large, urban public hospital. Customers could purchase healthy and less healthy beverages and snacks from October - December 2011. We examined experimental conditions testing relative influence of price changes via a 30% tax on less healthy items; labels highlighting less healthy products; and labels indicating the product is taxed because it is less healthy. The five experimental conditions were: baseline (A); tax only (B); “less healthy” labels (C); tax plus “less healthy” labels (D); and tax plus “less healthy” labels with details of tax highlighted on the label (E). We recorded every purchase: 2,151 unique sales transactions.

Results: At baseline, 47% of items sold were not healthy. Analysis is underway and will be complete before the meeting. We will examine sales data to indicate differences in food purchases, beverage purchases, composition of transactions, total price per transaction, calories, and fat. We will be able to determine whether taxes affected sales, signage alone impacted sales, and whether tax salience improved the effect.

Conclusions: This experiment allows us to see results not only of taxing less healthy items, but of highlighting the taxes in different methods suggested by behavioral economics research. We will tease out whether taxes, labeling and/or tax salience could shift purchases towards healthier items.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
1. Compare the effect of point-of-purchase labels with mock taxes on unhealthy food and drink purchases at a corner store. 2. Discuss how increasing tax salience affects purchases of unhealthy food and drinks. 3. Describe effective ways to shift purchases toward more healthy items in corner stores.

Keywords: Food and Nutrition, Policy/Policy Development

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the PI of multiple federally funded grants focusing on nutrition/obesity policy. Among my scientific interests has been how policy and environmental approaches influence health and health care, with a particular emphasis on obesity and food choice.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.