Research: Food pricing tied improving dietary consumption and BMI


Food pricing may be a promising means to improve dietary intake and lower BMI.

Fast food

Fast food

There is no doubt by anyone that a poor diet leads to poor health.  A lower quality diet may even be tied to a cause of higher morbidity and mortality.  In fact, experts have tied rising obesity rates to be the major challenge good health and higher obesity rate in the United States.  Food and sugar taxes are all the rave to prevent obesity, and many have said it is the cure for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and just about anything that ails you.    

While food pricing is a promising strategy to improve diet and thus body weight, the prospective impact of food pricing on diet and obesity has not been systematically proven.  Research backing is required because modern medicine centers on what we like to call evidence-based medicine and government policies to improve diet should be based on evidence and not emotion. Fiscal measures such as taxation or subsidies have been proposed as potential strategies to combat poor behavior, but there is little evidence to show that they can be effective.  Several reviews suggest that price changes may prospectively improve diet and obesity[1],[2].  Despite multiple studies to look at this topic, none have qualitative assessments.    

Deadly sugar - Skull and Cross Bones

Deadly sugar – Skull and Cross Bones

A new study was performed to address this gap by systematically investigated and quantified the effect of food prices and thus taxes on food consumption[3].  The researchers searched online databases for interventional or prospective observational studies of price change and diet. They found 23 interventional studies and seven prospective cohorts with 37 intervention arms to included in the study.  In pooled analyses, a 10% decrease in price, a subsidy, increased consumption of healthful foods by 12%, but a 10% increase price, a tax, decreased consumption of unhealthful foods by 6%.  Changes in the price of fruits and vegetables reduced body mass index, but price changes for sugar-sweetened beverages or fast foods did not significantly alter body mass index.  

The bottom line:  If weight loss is the desired outcome, subsidies may be an effective means to increase healthy eating and lose body fat.  Taxes may work to indeed improve BMI, but sugar and fast food taxes did not appear to help in these studies.  Taxation to reduce intake of unhealthful beverages and foods, but taxes on sugar and fast food did not help BMI.  More studies are needed.  


L. Powell, J. Chriqui, T. Khan, R. Wada, and F. Chaloupka, “Assessing the Potential Effectiveness of Food and Beverage Taxes and Subsidies for Improving Public Health: A Systematic Review of Prices, Demand and Body Weight Outcomes,” Obes Rev, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 110–128, Nov. 2012. [PMC]
E. Cabrera, J. Veerman, S. Tollman, M. Bertram, and K. Hofman, “Evidence that a tax on sugar sweetened beverages reduces the obesity rate: a meta-analysis,” BMC Public Health, vol. 13, p. 1072, Nov. 2013. [PMC]
A. Afshin et al., “The prospective impact of food pricing on improving dietary consumption: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” P, vol. 12, no. 3, p. e0172277, Mar. 2017 [Online]. Available: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172277″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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