a1 Department of Food Economics and Marketing, University of Reading, PO Box 237, Reading RG6 6AR, UK
The inequality of nutrition and obesity re-focuses concern on who in society is consuming the worst diet. Identification of individuals with the worst of dietary habits permits for targeting interventions to assuage obesity among the population segment where it is most prevalent. We argue that the use of fiscal interventions does not appropriately take into account the economic, social and health circumstances of the intended beneficiaries of the policy. This paper reviews the influence of socio-demographic factors on nutrition and health status and considers the impacts of nutrition policy across the population drawing on methodologies from both public health and welfare economics. The effects of a fat tax on diet are found to be small and while other studies show that fat taxes saves lives, we show that average levels of disease risk do not change much: those consuming particularly bad diets continue to do so. Our results also suggest that the regressivity of the policy increases as the tax becomes focused on products with high saturated fat contents. A fiscally neutral policy that combines the fat tax with a subsidy on fruit and vegetables is actually more regressive because consumption of these foods tends to be concentrated in socially undeserving households. We argue that when inequality is of concern, population-based measures must reflect this and approaches that target vulnerable populations which have a shared propensity to adopt unhealthy behaviours are appropriate.
(Online publication November 07 2011)