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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

NYU: Legal and Administrative Feasibility of a Federal Junk Food and Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax to Improve Diet

Ms. Jennifer Pomeranz, assistant professor of public health policy and management at New York University College of Global Public Health, had an article, “Legal and Administrative Feasibility of a Federal Junk Food and Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax to Improve Diet,” published recently in the American Journal of Public Health. In it, she proposes that a federal tax on junk food is both legally and administratively feasible, and that an excise tax should be paid by junk food manufacturers rather than a sales tax paid for by consumers.

To assess food definitions and administration models, the authors systematically searched (1) PubMed (through May 15, 2017) for articles defining foods subject to taxes, and legal and legislative databases as well as online for (2) U.S. federal, state, and tribal junk food tax bills and laws (January 1, 2012 – February 28, 2017); sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes (January 1, 2014 – February 28, 2017); and international junk food tax laws (as of February 28, 2017); and (3) federal taxing mechanisms and administrative methods (as of February 28, 2017).

Articles recommend taxing foods by product category, broad nutrient criteria, specific nutrients or calories, or a combination. U.S. junk food tax bills (n = 6) and laws (n = 3), international junk food laws (n = 2), and U.S. SSB taxes (n = 10) support taxing foods using category-based (n = 8), nutrient-based (n = 1), or combination (n = 12) approaches. Federal taxing mechanisms (particularly manufacturer excise taxes on alcohol) and administrative methods provide informative models.

From legal and administrative perspectives, a federal junk food tax appears feasible based on product categories or combination category-plus-nutrient approaches, using a manufacturer excise tax, with additional support for sugar and graduated tax strategies.

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