Healthy food subsidies and unhealthy food taxation: A systematic review of the evidence

Nutrition. 2015 Jun;31(6):787-95. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.12.010. Epub 2014 Dec 31.


The Global Burden of Disease Study and related studies report unhealthy diet is the leading risk for death and disability globally. Given the evidence associating diet and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), international and national health bodies including the World Health Organization and United Nations have called for population health interventions to improve diet as a means to target NCDs. One of the proposed interventions is to ensure healthy foods/beverages are more accessible to purchasers and unhealthy ones less accessible via fiscal policy, namely taxation and subsidies. The objective of this systematic review was to evaluate the evidence base to assess the effect of healthy food/beverage subsidies and unhealthy food/beverage taxation. A comprehensive review was conducted by searching PubMed, Medline, and Google Scholar for peer-reviewed publications and seventy-eight studies were identified for inclusion in this review. This review was performed in keeping with Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidance. Although moderate in quality, there was consistent evidence that taxation and subsidy intervention influenced dietary behaviors. The quality, level and strength of evidence along with identified gaps in research support the need for further policies and ongoing evaluation of population-wide food/beverage subsidies and taxation. To maximize success and effect, this review suggests that food taxes and subsidies should be a minimum of 10 to 15% and preferably used in tandem. Implementation of population-wide polices for taxation and subsides with ongoing evaluation of intended and unintended effects are supported by this review.

Keywords: Cost-effectiveness; Food tax; Fruits and vegetables; Non-communicable disease; Public health; Sodium; Subsidies; Sugar-sweetened beverages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet / economics*
  • Diet / standards
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food Assistance*
  • Food Supply / economics*
  • Health
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Taxes*