The Navajo Indian nation which occupies parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and covers over 27,000 square miles is taking a huge step to combat obesity on the reservation. Effective April 1st all junk food including chips, soda, sports drinks, and other products with “minimal to no nutritional value” will be assessed a 2% tax.
With the closest grocery store more than 20 miles away the Navajo Nation is considered a food desert. The long distance to any reasonable source of fresh and healthy food means that the 200,000 residents of the indian reservation rely on gas stations or general stores for their food supply. Unfortunately, junk food is by far cheaper than fresh fruit at these local stores. Nearly half of the residents over the age of 25 live below the poverty level and 42% on the reservation are unemployed. Poverty and unemployment require that the residents do everything they can to stretch their food budget including government food subsidies.
Junk food is more readily available than fresh produce. Even if fresh fruits and vegetables were available and affordable many of the residents do not have adequate means to store fresh food including no electricity. We all know that if you can’t adequately store fresh food there is certainly no reason to purchase the fruits and vegetables that your body needs to thrive.
Is a junk food tax that answer to the nation’s obesity and diabetes problem?
According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which supports a national sugar-sweetened Beverage (SSB) Tax, studies show a decrease in consumption with an imposed tax . In order for this tax to truly be effective though there must be education about healthier eating choices and increase the availability to fresh fruit and vegetables as well as minimally processed foods.
Taxing an impoverished population while limiting their access to unprocessed foods will not be successful. Additional steps must be taken to educate and evaluate the access that residents have to fresh and minimally processed foods. Food choices alone will not turn around a nation riddled with obesity and diabetes. Hopefully, there are also plan in place to teach the Navajo people about exercise and healthy drink choices.
Only time will tell if this tax, which is set to expire in 2020 will have a positive effect on the overall health and well being of the Navajo people.
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