Tax on junk food may ignite new health trend
Thursday, April 09, 2015
At the start of this month, a Native American community enacted a landmark decision to fight obesity and diabetes, two of the major reasons for death in America today.
In recent years, multiple states and cities have attempted to boost public health by enforcing a soda tax — and they have failed. In 2014, Berkeley, California, was one of the rare examples to successfully pass a soda tax measure. The results of that decision are still being rated.
For the Navajo Nation Council, this clearly wasn't enough. Now the community of 250,000 people living in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico will see increased taxes for all kinds of junk foods that have "minimal-to-no nutritional value." These mean more than sodas, and include sweets and snacks, baked and fried goods along with those sugar,y carbonated drinks.
But that doesn't mean the community will face hardships while buying groceries every time. On the contrary, the council has also lifted the 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables, making fresh produce more affordable. The key focus is to help improve the health of its denizens, and in the process help make ends meet.
The Navajo live in one of the hardest-hit economic regions in the country, with around 42 percent of their population living below the federal poverty line and over 40 percent unemployed.
The Navajo Nation has seen more dollars stretched over precooked meals and chips than over fresh fruits. They are habituated to fast food as well, but perhaps this new 2 percent tax on junk food will stem the alarming rise of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Of course, not everyone is convinced that this will work, including some of the Navajo residents. With high prices and limited stores, they are more dependent on gas stations and convenience stores for their everyday needs. These are not exactly places known for healthy fare, so their options are limited.
While the tribal tax commission still needs to give its final approval to the plan, the effort has been a huge incentive for other states and cities. By increasing the cost of sugary and fattening foods, the council intends to urge healthier food choices.
This tax money could be used to inform people about the harms caused by these foods and the benefits of healthy foods. Naysayers have argued that this will not prevent the epidemics of obesity and diabetes, but then doing nothing wouldn't aid in any way either.
The United States is suffering from an epidemic of obesity and has become the world capital for diabetes. This shortens our lifespans and leads to myriad deadly ailments, huge medical expenses and economic upheaval.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third (34.9 percent or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. Among the Navajo Nation residents, 10 percent are diabetic and 30 percent are prediabetic, while 23-60 percent are either obese to prone to it.
The solution for all is to make healthier life choices and eat better. But not all can be disciplined or consistent in these endeavors. If these new taxes can push us to rethink our grocery budgets and buy healthier foods for a lesser cost, it is worth the effort surely.
A closer look at the data will show how the economically distressed communities show increasing signs of obesity. The Navajo Nation's decision may well be the harbinger of change for them, as well as the nation as a whole.
Many state and city councils, who had given up after the lukewarm response on soda tax are now rethinking their stances. And nonprofit efforts are helping as well — like Connecticut-based Wholesome Wave, which works to connect low-income people with fresh local produce.
Efforts like these will help people make healthier choices, reduce their medical expenses and prevent chronic disease epidemics in the future.
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