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Subsidies on healthy foods work to increase consumption

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

04-Jul-2013

Subsidies are effective at promoting healthier food and beverage choices, according to a new review published in Public Health Nutrition.

Increasing attention is being paid to economic interventions that could promote healthy eating, particularly in light of Danish taxes on saturated fat, Hungarian taxes on packaged foods high in salt, fat or sugar, and various taxes around the world on sugar-sweetened soft drinks. However, critics have pointed out that taxes on any food or beverage disproportionately affect the poor – especially while healthier options often remain higher priced.

In this review from public policy analysis non-profit Rand Corporation, study author Ruopeng An examined 20 different international subsidy programmes applied to different types of foods such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat snacks sold in supermarkets, cafeterias, vending machines, farmers’ markets or restaurants.

“All but one study found subsidies on healthier foods to significantly increase the purchase and consumption of promoted products,” An wrote.

The only exception may have been due to the small financial incentive, of US$0.50 toward the purchase of any fruit or vegetable, he said. The researchers behind that study also concluded “more powerful interventions are probably necessary to induce shoppers to purchase and consume more fruits and vegetables”.

An said that some of the studies also compared subsidies with other nutrition interventions, such as promotional signage, health messages, nutrition information or product labelling – but these were largely inconclusive.

However, he added that it was still some uncertainty about the effectiveness of subsidies, due to small study samples, short intervention periods, and an absence of overall diet assessment questions to measure total energy intake.

An concluded: “Subsidizing healthier foods tends to be effective in modifying dietary behaviour. Future studies should examine its long-term effectiveness and cost-effectiveness at the population level and its impact on overall diet intake.”

 

Source: Public Health Nutrition

Vol. 16 Iss. 7, pp. 1215–1228 doi:10.1017/S1368980012004715

“Effectiveness of subsidies in promoting healthy food purchases and consumption: a review of field experiments”

Author: Ruopeng An

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