Can ‘Junk Food Tax’ End The Obesity Epidemic? Navajo Nation To Experiment With The Healthy Diné Nation Act

The “Junk Food Tax,” it is hoped, will bring a small American town’s obesity problem under control. The Healthy Diné Nation Act (HDNA), approved by Navajo Nation is a desperate tactic to curb the bulging waistlines of its citizens.

While everyone is unanimous about the fact that fast food makes you fat, they are divided when it comes to deciding on the right course of action to wean the population off these calorie-heavy diets that do no good. Interestingly, some feel if left to its devices, the invisible and far-reaching hand of capitalism will soon effect a tipping-point, persuading people to stop demanding unhealthy products.

But until that happens, the Navajo Nation is taking a novel and aggressive approach to tackle obesity and its related pitfalls. The tiny 27,400-square-mile reservation has an incredibly high rate of dietary diseases, and in a desperate bid at discouraging the rampant consumption of junk food; Navajo Nation has proposed a 2 percent tax or surcharge if you may call it, on all junk food sold within its borders.

There’s no doubt. The Navajo Nation desperately needs a healthy overhaul, shared epidemiologist David Foley of the Navajo Nation Division of Health,

“10 percent of the tribe—24,600 people—have diabetes. The obesity rate is also higher than 60 percent in some age groups.”

Hence the Healthy Diné Nation Act was approved by Navajo Nation Council President Ben Shelly last year. However, the act will come into effect from the 1st of April, this year. Not only will the act tax junk food, it will encourage Navajo residents to shift to a healthier diet. The act will drop the standard 5 percent sales tax on all fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and bottled water to urge its fat and at-risk people to start eating fresh and healthy, instead of things that are deep-fried.

Interestingly, the HDNA is the nation’s second sin tax passed in an attempt to curb obesity. Berkeley has already added a one-cent per ounce fee on sugar-sweetened beverages starting this January. While it is quite early to judge the effectiveness of using taxes to wean people off junk-food, the supply and demand relationship can be seen in Mexico’s soda tax passed in January 2014.

In the first three months of the one-peso-per-liter tax—which is about a 5 percent price increase—soda consumption plummeted 10 percent, and third-quarter Coca-Cola sales were down 6.4 percent from the previous year.

HDNA is certainly an interesting approach as it aims to tax “foods of little or no nutritional value”—chips, soda, candy, pastries, fast food—on the reservation, and also reduce prices of healthy alternatives. However, only time will tell about its effectiveness.

[Inage Credit | AP via First We Feast]