Lower-Priced Fruits and Vegetables and Higher-Priced Sodas, Can the Combination Beat Obesity?

Mar 04, 2016 05:30 AM EST | By Mark Jason Alcala

With the latest CDC data showing that around third of US adults are obese, it is high time for the government to take concrete steps to address the issue. Yet nutritional campaigns by the government as well as private institutions bent on teaching the public on healthy eating seem to have failed - obesity rates continue to rise year after year. Is it time for a different approach?

 Recently, researches at Harvard and Tufts Universities came up with a new way of approaching the problem, according to a YahooNews article. They conclude that millions of lives could be saved by tweaking the price structure of certain commodities. Specifically, they suggest that raising the prices for sodas and other sugary drinks while at the same time reducing prices for healthy food items, such as fruit and vegetables could be a way of addressing the obesity issue, along with other related health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

In a statement, Harvard professor Thomas Gaziano asserts that a proper diet change will have profound effect to a person's cardiovascular health. Gaziano adds that whether motivated by a personal choice or market factors, the positive effects of dietary changes is the same.

The researchers created a computer model that was configured to predict what would happen if a 10 percent drop in fruit and vegetable prices should occur. Here's what the computer model predicted:

1.       In five years, deaths from cardiovascular disease could fall by 1.2 percent.

2.       In 20 years, deaths from cardiovascular disease could fall by almost 2 percent.

3.       Heart attacks incidents could fall by 2.6 percent in 20 years

4.       Stokes could fall by a significant 4 percent in 20 years.

The computer model parameter was then changed. This time, the model was configured to predict what would happen if prices of sugary drinks were increased by 10 percent. Here are the predictions:

1.       Deaths from cardiovascular diseases could decrease by almost 0.1 percent in five years.

2.       Deaths from cardiovascular diseases could decrease by 0.12 percent in 20 years.

Putting the two results together, here is the combined prediction:

1.       In 20 years, heart attacks could decrease by 0.25 percent.

2.       In 20 years, strokes could decrease by 0.17 percent.

3.       In five years, diabetes could decrease by 0.2 percent.

4.       In 20 years, diabetes could decrease by 0.7 percent.

It's amazing to see how such small price changes - 10 percent decrease in fruits and vegetable with the corresponding 10 percent increase in prices for sugary drinks - could have such great impact on the health of Americans. At current levels, the computer model predictions could translate to 515,000 cardiovascular deaths being prevented and nearly 675,000 strokes and heart attacks could be stopped.

Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University then concluded that these predictions support the push to use a combination of taxes and subsidies to improve public health.

This would not be the first time that communities tried to impose sales taxes on sugary drinks with the end goal of addressing the obesity problem. Many have tried and failed, an example is New York City's attempt to limit sales on jumbo sugary drinks also known as the failed soda ban.

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