Objective: To examine the effects, by income group, of targeted food taxes and subsidies on nutrition, health and expenditure in the UK.
Methods: A model based on consumption data and demand elasticity was constructed to predict the effects of four food taxation-subsidy regimens. Resulting changes in demand, expenditure, nutrition, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer mortality were estimated. Data Expenditure data were taken from the Expenditure and Food Survey; estimates of price elasticities of demand for food were taken from a report based on the National Food Survey 1988-2000. Estimates of effect on CVD and cancer mortality of changing fat, salt, fruit and vegetable intake were taken from previous meta-analyses.
Results: (i) Taxing principal sources of dietary saturated fat is unlikely to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer mortality. (ii) Taxing 'less healthy' foods (defined by the WXYfm nutrient profiling model) could increase CVD and cancer deaths by 35-1300 yearly. (iii) Taxing 'less healthy' foods and subsidising fruits and vegetables by 17.5% could avert up to 2900 CVD and cancer deaths yearly. (iv) Taxing 'less healthy' foods and using all tax revenue to subsidize fruits and vegetables could avert up to 6400 CVD and cancer deaths yearly. Few obesity-related CVD deaths are averted by any of the regimens. All four regimens would be economically regressive and positive health effects will not necessarily be greater in lower-income groups where the need for dietary improvement is higher.
Conclusions: A targeted food tax combined with the appropriate subsidy on fruits and vegetables could reduce deaths from CVD and cancer.