Assessing the potential effectiveness of food and beverage taxes and subsidies for improving public health: a systematic review of prices, demand and body weight outcomes


  • This study was commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through its Healthy Eating Research Programme. We also gratefully acknowledge research support from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) under Grant No. R01 DK089096. The manuscript contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of the RWJF, NIDDK or the National Institutes of Health.

Address for correspondence: Dr Lisa M. Powell, Institute of Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, M/C 275, 1747 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60608, USA.



Taxes and subsidies are increasingly being considered as potential policy instruments to incentivize consumers to improve their food and beverage consumption patterns and related health outcomes. This study provided a systematic review of recent U.S. studies on the price elasticity of demand for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), fast food, and fruits and vegetables, as well as the direct associations of prices/taxes with body weight outcomes. Based on the recent literature, the price elasticity of demand for SSBs, fast food, fruits and vegetables was estimated to be −1.21, −0.52, −0.49 and −0.48, respectively. The studies that linked soda taxes to weight outcomes showed minimal impacts on weight; however, they were based on existing state-level sales taxes that were relatively low. Higher fast-food prices were associated with lower weight outcomes particularly among adolescents, suggesting that raising prices would potentially impact weight outcomes. Lower fruit and vegetable prices were generally found to be associated with lower body weight outcomes among both low-income children and adults, suggesting that subsidies that would reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables for lower-socioeconomic populations may be effective in reducing obesity. Pricing instruments should continue to be considered and evaluated as potential policy instruments to address public health risks.