A new article published in The Milbank Quarterly explores how food prices can affect weight outcomes, revealing that pricing interventions can have a significant effect on obesity rates. This article is part of the March special issue, which includes eleven articles focusing on the topic of obesity.
Raising the prices of less healthy foods (e.g., fast foods and sugary products) and lowering the prices of healthier foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) are associated with lower body weight and lesser likelihood of obesity. Children and adolescents, the poor, and those already at a higher weight are most responsive to these changes in prices.
Small taxes on unhealthy food items or small subsidies for healthy foods are not likely to produce substantial changes in BMI or obesity prevalence while nontrivial pricing interventions may have a measurable effect on Americans' weight outcomes.
"This review provides evidence about the potential effectiveness of using food pricing policies to affect weight outcomes, including the potential impact of excise and other taxes on less healthy products and of subsidies for more healthy products," the authors conclude.
This is the first comprehensive review of evidence on the effects of food prices on weight outcomes. Lisa Powell and Frank J. Chaloupka of the University of Illinois at Chicago assessed research published between 1990 and 2008 that involved weight and BMI in combination with pricing and taxes.