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‘Fat tax’ can boost healthy foods demand: Study

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New York: Small price differences in food products, which mimic a “fat tax”, can be highly effective in shifting consumer demand from high calorie to healthier low-calorie alternatives, say authors of a study that included Indians.

The paper ‘Will a Fat Tax Work?’ by professors Romana Khan at Northwestern University, Kanishka Misra at the University of Michigan, and Vishal Singh at the New York University Stern School of Business is based on a large-scale field study analysing six years of sales data from over 1,700 supermarkets across the US.

It found that low-income consumers, who disproportionately suffer the consequences of obesity, are particularly responsive to small price differences across products. Such differences are important because they mimic a “fat tax”.

The researchers focused on a peculiar pricing pattern of milk in the US, where relative prices for milk across fat content — whole, two percent, one percent and skim — vary depending on where you live and which store you happen to patronise.

At some stores, prices are equal across all fat content; at others, prices decrease with fat content, with whole milk the most expensive and skim the cheapest option.

“The question that comes to mind is whether these different price structures have an impact on people’s choices. To put it simply, do people switch to lower fat milk for a price difference as small as 15 cents per gallon?” said Romana Khan, the co-author on the study.

“The answer to this question is of interest because it relates to the hotly debated issue of whether a ‘fat’ or ‘sugar’ tax can be an effective mechanism to curb obesity.”

The study found that in markets where milk prices were equal across fat alternatives, people chose whole milk over lower calorie alternatives, particularly in low-income areas.

At equal prices across fat content, the market share of whole milk was 52 percent Ain lower income areas compared to 25 percent in higher income areas.

In markets where whole milk was priced at a premium, the average price difference for a gallon of milk of just 14 cents (five percent) caused a significant shift in market share away from whole milk to lower fat options.

This shift to the lower calorie options was significantly more pronounced in low-income neighbourhoods.

“This provides us with a quasi-experimental setup to analyse how small price differences impact people’s choices,” said Misra.

“Our results have significant implications for health experts and policy makers since interventions in the form of taxes on high calories foods are highly contentious,” said Singh of the New York University.

“The general perception is that these taxes need to be substantial, at least 20 percent and often as high as 50 percent, to have a meaningful impact. This would be highly regressive since low-income consumers spend a greater proportion of their disposable income on food,” he added.

The new study shows that large shifts in demand toward the lower-calorie option can be achieved with a price difference of just 5-10 percent.

“Here, we have compelling field-based evidence that such taxes don’t need to be high to be effective,” Singh said. (IANS), (image courtesy:i.guim.co.uk)

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Kids Who Watch Cooking Show Featuring Healthy Food Likely To Make Healthy Food Choice

Exposure to healthier options has on children is strongly influenced by personality traits

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Researchers believe that watching programmes with healthier options can still have a positive impact on children's behaviour, even if it is delayed by age, leading to consumption of healthy food. Pixabay

While exposure to television advertisements about fast foods is often linked to unhealthy eating habits among children, a new research has revealed that TV programmes featuring healthy food can influence children to make healthier food choices now and in adulthood.

Kids who watched a child-oriented cooking show featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to make a healthy food choice than those who watched a different episode of the same show featuring unhealthy food, said the study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour.

“The findings from this study indicate cooking programmes can be a promising tool for promoting positive changes in children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviours,” said lead author Frans Folkvord of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

For the study, the researchers asked 125 children between 10 to 12 years of age at five schools in the Netherlands to watch 10 minutes of a Dutch public television cooking programme designed for children, and then offered them a snack as a reward for participating.

Children who watched the healthy programme were far more likely to choose one of the healthy snack options — an apple or a few pieces of cucumber — than one of the unhealthy options — a handful of chips or a handful of salted mini-pretzels.

Prior research has found youth are more likely to eat nutrient-rich foods including fruits and vegetables if they were involved in preparing the dish, but modern reliance on ready-prepared foods and a lack of modelling by parents in preparing fresh foods have led to a drop in cooking skills among kids.

“Providing nutritional education in school environments instead may have an important positive influence on the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviours of children,” Folkvord said.

This study suggests the visual prominence of healthier options in both food choice and portion size on TV cooking programmes leads young viewers to crave those healthier choices then act on those cravings. But the effect that exposure to healthier options has on children is strongly influenced by personality traits.

Food
While exposure to television advertisements about fast foods is often linked to unhealthy eating habits among children, a new research has revealed that TV programmes featuring healthy food can influence children to make healthier food choices now and in adulthood. Pixabay

For example, children who don’t like new foods are less likely to show a stronger desire for healthier choices after watching a TV programme featuring healthier foods than a child who does enjoy trying new foods. As they grow older, though, they start to feel more responsible for their eating habits and can fall back on information they learned as children.

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Researchers believe this may indicate watching programmes with healthier options can still have a positive impact on children’s behaviour, even if it is delayed by age. (IANS)