Altering the price of seven particular foods could prevent tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States, according to a new study from researchers at Tufts University. The study, published in BMC Medicine, used a comparative risk assessment model to determine the public health impact of price subsidies on healthy foods and increased taxes on unhealthy foods. Research demonstrated that a 10 percent price alteration to the highlighted foods, which include fruits, vegetables, nuts, red meat, sugary drinks, seeds, and whole grains, would result in 23,000 fewer deaths per year in the United States; a 30 percent alteration would result in 63,000 fewer deaths.
The study confirms with precision what may seem to be intuitive: if healthy foods are more accessible, and unhealthy foods are less accessible, people will consume greater amounts of healthier foods and live healthier lives. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that national data sets have been pooled and analyzed to investigate the influence of food subsidies and taxes on disparities in cardiometabolic deaths in the United States,” said José L. Peñalvo, the study’s lead author and adjunct assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. “We found that modest price changes on healthy and unhealthy foods would help decrease overall cardiometabolic deaths and also reduce disparities between socio-economic strata in the U.S.—the largest changes coming from reducing the prices of fruits and vegetables and increasing the price of sugary drinks.”
While public outreach efforts such as educational campaigns and food labeling seems to have made a positive impact on health outcomes, these strategies are much less impactful for people with lower socioeconomic status. Directly altering the pricing of certain foods seems to have the most direct, tangible impact on reducing health outcome disparities. The study also measured outcomes for the price alteration of specifics foods. For example, diabetes deaths were most affected by taxes on sugary drinks, while stroke deaths were most influenced by subsidies of fruits and vegetables. With this new understanding of food policy, it is now up to elected officials to make the necessary changes to promote a healthier constituency. “If we want to cut down on disease and achieve meaningful health care reform, we should make it a top nonpartisan priority to address our nation’s nutrition crisis,” wrote Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School.