Taxing Food and Beverage Products: A Public Health Perspective and a New Strategy for Prevention

The power to tax and spend is considered a primary government power, and the use thereof is associated with great public health achievements. The greatest public health challenge at present stems from the increase in obesity and chronic diseases due to poor nutrition. Several taxation strategies have emerged in the health and economic literature to raise revenue, deter consumption, and address food prices and obesity directly. These proposals include taxing obese individuals, taxing problematic food products, and instituting a tax based on certain food components. This article weighs each proposal’s value and disadvantages and concludes by proposing a new tax and spend strategy: a manufacturers’ excise tax on all highly processed food and beverage products. This tax would be instituted to raise revenue and provide conditional funding to states and locales to directly alter their food environment. It avoids the pitfalls inherent in the other tax strategies and is a viable method to address public health and the food environment more broadly.