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Promotion of Healthy Eating Through Public Policy: A Controlled Experiment

June 2013

Brian Elbel, Glen B. Taksler, Tod Mijanovich, Courtney B. Abrams, L.B. Dixon


This experiment analyzes the effectiveness of different methods of decreasing consumption of unhealthy food and beverages. Researchers opened a store where they sold foods under five separate circumstances: under normal conditions, with a 30% tax on unhealthy snacks and beverages, a highlighted “less healthy” label on the unhealthy items, and finally a combination of the two. Customers were 11% more likely to opt for healthier food and beverages with the tax levied (whether a label also appeared had no influence), and 6% more likely to buy healthier items when the unhealthy alternatives included the “less healthy” label (but no additional tax).

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Policy Implications

This experiment suggests that a policy of labeling unhealthy items will reduce their consumption by 6%. However, levying additional taxes proved to be a more effective mechanism, reducing consumption by 11%.

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