Price changes for seven foods could save thousands of lives per year, study says

November 27, 2017, Tufts University
Credit: Anna Langova/Public Domain

Changing the prices of seven foods, including fruits, vegetables and sugar-sweetened beverages, could reduce deaths due to stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and address health disparities in the United States, finds a study led by researchers from Tufts University.

In the study, published today in BMC Medicine, the team of researchers used a comparative risk assessment model to estimate the potential effects of price subsidies on healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, and taxes on processed and unprocessed red meats and sugary drinks, on the number of annual deaths from cardiometabolic diseases in the United States.

The researchers found that if the of all seven dietary items were altered 10 percent each, an estimated 23,000 deaths per year could be prevented; this corresponds to 3.4 percent of all cardiometabolic disease deaths in the United States. A 30 percent price change almost tripled that approximation with an estimation of 63,000 deaths prevented per year, or 9.2 percent of all cardiometabolic disease deaths.

"This is the first time, to our knowledge, that national data sets have been pooled and analyzed to investigate the influence of subsidies and taxes on disparities in cardiometabolic deaths in the United States," said lead and corresponding author José L. Peñalvo, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "We found that modest price changes on healthy and unhealthy foods would help decrease overall cardiometabolic deaths and also reduce disparities between socio-economic strata in the U.S.—the largest changes coming from reducing the prices of fruits and vegetables and increasing the price of sugary drinks."

When the researchers looked at factors such as educational attainment and socioeconomic status, they found that larger proportions of deaths would be prevented among Americans with less than high school or high school education, compared with college graduates. Additionally, under low and high gradients of price responsiveness, subsidies and taxes would reduce disparities in all cardiometabolic disease outcomes. Diabetes would be significantly reduced by any of the scenarios.

"Our findings on disparities are particularly relevant today, with growing inequities in diet and cardiometabolic disease. The current strategies, such as education campaigns or food labeling, have improved overall dietary habits, but much less so among people with lower socioeconomic status," said senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., dean of the Friedman School. "These results suggest that financial incentives to purchase healthy food, and disincentives to purchase unhealthy foods, can prove successful in meaningfully reducing cardiometabolic disease disparities."

The largest proportional reduction in cardiometabolic disease outcome was observed for stroke, followed by diabetes. Diabetes deaths were most influenced by taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, while stroke deaths were most influenced by subsidies for fruits and vegetables. The researchers acknowledge that the efficacy of taxation will depend on what products consumers chose as an alternative. Therefore, this is the most likely average effect of price changes.

The researchers defined the seven dietary elements based on evidence of their associations with cardiometabolic diseases, including stroke, diabetes and overall cardiovascular disease, and policy interest. From there, the researchers investigated the price responsiveness of each food item to price change and how each price intervention could prevent deaths and disparities from using different price responsiveness scenarios.

The team used nationally-representative data from 2012 on the consumption of selected food items by age, gender and socioeconomic status; estimates of etiological effects of these foods on cardiometabolic disease by age; observed national cardiometabolic disease deaths by age, gender and socioeconomic status; and estimated the impact of pricing changes on dietary habits by .

Explore further: Dietary factors associated with substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and disease

More information: José L. Peñalvo et al, The potential impact of food taxes and subsidies on cardiovascular disease and diabetes burden and disparities in the United States, BMC Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1186/s12916-017-0971-9

Related Stories

Dietary factors associated with substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and disease

March 7, 2017
Nearly half of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the U.S. in 2012 were associated with suboptimal consumption of certain dietary factors, according to a study appearing in the March 7 issue of ...

Food policies could lower US cardiovascular disease rates

June 6, 2017
New research conducted by the University of Liverpool and partners shows that food policies, such as fruit and vegetable subsidies, taxes on sugar sweetened drinks, and mass media campaigns to change dietary habits, could ...

Food subsidies and taxes significantly improve dietary choices

March 1, 2017
A new systematic review and meta-analysis finds that lowering the cost of healthy foods significantly increases their consumption, while raising the cost of unhealthy items significantly reduces their intake.

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Sugar-sweetened drinks raise risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome

November 2, 2017
Regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and juice contributes to the development of diabetes, high blood pressure and other endemic health problems, according to a review of epidemiological studies published ...

Sleep patterns contribute to racial differences in disease risk

August 18, 2017
Poor sleep patterns could explain, in part, the differences in the risk of cardiometabolic disease between African-Americans and European-Americans, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy ...

Recommended for you

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

Being a single dad can shorten your life: study

February 15, 2018
The risk of dying prematurely more than doubles for single fathers compared to single mothers or paired-up dads, according to a study of Canadian families published Thursday.

Keeping an eye on the entire ageing process

February 15, 2018
Medical researchers often only focus on a single disease. As older people often suffer from multiple diseases at the same time, however, we need to rethink this approach, writes Ralph Müller.

Study suggests possible link between highly processed foods and cancer

February 14, 2018
A study published by The BMJ today reports a possible association between intake of highly processed ("ultra-processed") food in the diet and cancer.

Gov't says health costs to keep growing faster than economy

February 14, 2018
U.S. health care spending will keep growing faster than the overall economy in the foreseeable future, squeezing public insurance programs and employers who provide coverage, the government said Wednesday.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MR166
1 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2017
What utter PC B.S.! Yea sugar is bad but so is excess fructose as in eating too many fruits each day. Also the vendetta against red meat is totally unfounded as is the vendetta against natural saturated fats. The real culprits that no one wants to confront is milled grains, white potatoes and rice. All have a glycemic index as high as or close to table sugar. These raise blood sugar levels to dangerous levels. Natural fats and oils should provide 70% of the calories consumed in a healthy diet.
tblakely1357
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 27, 2017
Gotta love statistical studies masquerading as science.
MR166
not rated yet Nov 27, 2017
From what I understand the original saturated fat studies were short term with a limited amount of subjects and only dealt with lipid levels. When long term studies with a large amount of participants were conducted saturated fats did not contribute to mortality rates.
The Black Smurf
not rated yet Nov 28, 2017
Why not simply criminalize the former right to feed oneself.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.