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Fiscal and pricing policies related to food and non-alcoholic drinks

Fiscal and pricing policies related to food and non-alcoholic drinks

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Fiscal and pricing policies related to food and non-alcoholic drinks: a review of the evidence

The report presents the findings from a review of the evidence on fiscal and pricing strategies for food and non-alcoholic drinks commissioned by safefood. The review of the evidence comprised two umbrella reviews of the literature and two empirical studies. 

The umbrella reviews examined evidence for whether and how such fiscal and pricing policies in relation to food and non-alcoholic drinks might improve diet and prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs). They also examined the effects of such policies with respect to equity and to the public and political acceptability of fiscal and pricing measuresintended to improve diet. In addition to this, empirical studies were undertaken to examine the relationship between the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in Northern Ireland with, on one hand, their consumption and, on the other, treatment for dental caries.

The key findings are:

  • There is sufficient evidence (mainly from SSBs) to suggest that taxes affect consumption if applied appropriately (that is, at the right level and where consumers have limited opportunity to buy untaxed sugary alternatives instead).
  • While there is evidence of public support for measures to address obesity/overweight, there is limited evidence of support for using taxes to achieve this. Consensus must therefore be sought as to the merits of such policies, providing credible evidence that they succeed and will mitigate any regressive effects that disadvantage lower-income groups. 
  • There is currently a lack of evidence on the impact of taxes and pricing policies on health outcomes. This is an important gap in itself, and also matters because of its potential to undermine arguments for the use of taxes and pricing policies in the future. While our preliminary evidence suggests they affect the use of healthcare services, further evidence of health effects is required. 
  • We recommend that the use of fiscal instruments be considered beyond those currently applied to SSBs, with a view to improving public health and reducing health inequalities.


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