No one likes taxes, and we often call them one of the only two certainties in life. But what if taxes could delay death, or at least buy yourself some disability-free years as you age? Would you be willing to pay them if the benefits outweighed the cost?
Researchers at the University of Melbourne, Australia toyed with various combinations of such taxes and subsidies to study the effect on death and morbidity rates among Australians. They also looked at the effect on healthcare costs and designed models that would increase food cost for the average household by less than one percent.
When the taxes were combined with subsidies for fruits and vegetables, even more disability-adjusted life years were reduced. Healthcare costs also came down.
“Few other public health interventions could deliver such health gains on average across the whole population,” the authors said, in a statement.
The next largest benefit came from a tax on salt, which resulted in an estimated savings of 130,000 DALYs. A tax on saturated fat could cut 97,000 DALYs; a tax on sugary drinks could prevent 12,000 DALYs. When the taxes were combined with subsidies for fruits and vegetables, even more DALYs were averted and healthcare costs also came down.
Subsidies alone, though, did not show a clear health benefit.
In US dollars, $2.3 billion in healthcare costs and over 470,000 DALYS could be saved using the Australian model of taxes and subsidies.
What this study does do is add to the evidence regarding the way the use of taxes and other regulatory measures could promote healthy eating, provide sizeable health benefits and reduce health care costs. Policymakers should keep these options in mind when formulating public health and nutrition policies.
“Several countries have imposed taxes on sugary drinks, with the UK the latest to consider such a policy. Our research suggests that even bigger health gains and cost savings may be possible with food taxes and subsidies on a wider range of foods,” the authors added.
The study is published in PLOS.