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Junk food tax linked to healthier diet

Taxes on junk food and subsidies for fruit and vegetables could lead to a healthier nation, a study has found.

The joint research from Auckland and Otago universities involved reviewing 32 studies looking at the relationship between food pricing strategies, food consumption and chronic disease such as a diabetes.

Lead researcher Helen Eyles says the analysis found people consumed 0.02 per cent less saturated fat for each one per cent increase in the price of junk food.

"Likewise, a 10 per cent increase in the price of soft drinks could decrease consumption by one per cent to as much as 24 per cent," she said.

Up to eight per cent more fruit and vegetables were seen in lunch boxes and on the dinner table when the price of these healthier foods dropped by 10 per cent.

However, when the price of fruit and vegetables came down people were less likely to fork out for other healthy foods such as fish.

The research found people also bought more unhealthy products such as sugar, which could result in a less healthy diet overall.

Ms Eyles says studies that compared socio-economic groups predicted healthier outcomes for those on lower incomes, which suggests food pricing strategies have the potential to reduce inequalities.

"It must be noted that the impact of any given food tax or subsidy is likely to differ by country depending on factors such as the type of tax system implemented, health status, co-existent marketing, cultural norms, expendable income, and the social role of food," she said.

"Given the limitations of the current evidence, robust evaluations must be planned when food pricing policies are implemented by governments."