Using price policies to promote healthier diets

WHO/Faith Kilford Vorting

Economic theory identifies price as one of the most important factors in determining consumer purchasing behaviour for a wide range of goods. In recent years, scientists have been looking at emerging evidence indicating that price policies applied to food can affect the type and amount of food that consumers buy. This, in turn, could potentially contribute to improved diets and health by shifting consumption towards more fruit and vegetables and away from energy-dense food products high in sugar and fats, for example. Several countries in the WHO European Region have now introduced health-related taxes or subsidies on specific foods and/or nutrients with the objective of shaping what people buy and of positively influencing dietary intake and health outcomes. In the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020, WHO European Member States agreed to explore, according to national circumstances, the potential of economic measures tin promoting healthy eating, including price policies to influence the demand for foods high in saturated fat, trans fats, sugar or salt and to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

A new publication by WHO/Europe provides information on the use of price policies to promote healthy diets and summarizes recent policy developments from different parts of the Region. The publication includes case studies from WHO European Member States where price policies to promote public health have been introduced, and concludes with some observations about the design of such policies. Given that the research evidence base is rapidly expanding and lessons from countries are beginning to emerge, it is important to compile real-world evidence alongside economic theory.

The publication reviews examples of policy action from Denmark, Finland, France and Hungary, as well as the European School Fruit Scheme. Experience with the implementation of such policies in some countries indicates that they are feasible and can influence consumption and purchasing patterns. In some instances it has even been possible to identify a measurable impact on important dietary and health-related behaviours. Furthermore, the revenue raised has in some cases been invested in prevention and public health.

Country or responsible authority

Economic Measure

Denmark

A tax on saturated fat of DKr 16 (approximately €2.15) per kg, with the taxable base including all foods containing saturated fat (for example, meat, dairy, edible oils and fats, margarine and blended spreads). No longer in force.

Finland

A tax on sweets, ice cream and soft drinks, with the taxable base including non-alcoholic beverages, confectionery, chocolate and ice cream and excluding certain products such as biscuits, baked goods, yoghurt products, puddings, jellies, mousses and granulated sugar. Sweets and ice cream are taxed at €0.95 per kg, beverages with sugar at €0.22 per litre, and sugar-free beverages at €0.11 per litre.

France

A tax on all non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar or sweeteners. Effective from January 2012, the tax is levied at €7.16 per hL (equivalent to approximately €0.07 per litre).

Hungary

A public health tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, energy drinks, confectionery, salted snacks, condiments, flavoured alcohol and fruit jams, levied at different rates since 2011.

European Union

A subsidy scheme to provide free fruit and vegetables to children in schools, paid for by a combination of EU, national, private and parental contributions. The scheme reaches more than 8 million children in over 54 000 schools across 25 participating countries.