If Junk Food Was More Expensive, Would You Lose More Weight?

If Junk Food Was More Expensive, Would You Lose More Weight?

One of the reasons America has become an obese nation is an extremely efficient food industry. Never in the history of mankind has food been so cheap. On average, that is. You see, unhealthy food is extremely cheap, whereas healthier fare such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products are more expensive.

How did we get to the point where processed, unhealthy food is so widely available and affordable, while healthy food is expensive? There are many reasons, and some have to do with government level decisions and policies. One example is the absurdly low cost of manufacturing soft drinks. The main ingredient is water, followed by high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is extremely cheap because corn production is subsidized by the federal government.

What would happen if the USDA chose to subsidize broccoli and kale, instead of corn and soy? What would happen if junk food was more expensive? This is mostly a theoretical question in the US, but in Mexico, an interesting change has taken place.

In 2013, Mexico’s legislature passed a one-peso-per-liter tax on sugary soft drinks. The law went into effect 18 months ago, in January 2014. The price increase was about 10 percent. The “soda tax” is an example of a bold, if controversial, public health policy. Mexico is the world’s top consumer of soft drinks (followed by the US), so a price change was expected to have an immediate effect. It did. Consumption of soft drinks in Mexico dropped by 6 percent and is continuing to fall.

Since soft drinks are the single largest contributor to weight gain, it seems like this tax may be an effective way to help entire populations with weight management. There are of course many who would call this measure too harsh – a “nanny state”, if you will. In any case, it does not seem likely that similar laws will be enacted in the US.

Which puts the burden of eating healthfully and fighting temptation on us as individuals. It makes things harder, but not impossible. One of the first things you can do to help you lose weight is to drop soft drinks from your repertoire of calories. It will save your family $500 a year, and help you shed (or not gain) between 3-5 pounds. Good luck!

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