This Tiny Community Is The First Ever To Pass A Junk Food Tax

Last Update: April 20, 2023

Is paying a few more cents for a candy bar or a soda going to stop people from buying—and consuming—junk food? One small community struggling to combat obesity is banking on it.

The Navajo Nation became the first part of the United States to impose a junk food tax on Wednesday.

The Healthy Diné Nation Act, which Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed into law last year, imposes a 2 percent tax on items with “minimal-to-no nutritional value.” This law also removes the general 5 percent sales tax from fresh fruits, vegetables, nut butters and water to encourage consumers to buy healthier foods.

The Navajo Nation will use the money from the so-called sin tax on projects that will benefit the health of the community, such as vegetable gardens and greenhouses, farmers markets, and new health classes and workout equipment.

Though the Navajo Nation is the first to pass a junk food tax, others have tried similar measures. In 2014, Berkeley, Calif. passed the first soda tax, which adds a penny-per-ounce fee to every sugary drink purchased. Many other cities, counties and states have tried to pass these kind of sin taxes in the past, but haven’t been able to make it happen. The jury is still out on the impact of the Berkeley tax, though soda sales dropped significantly in Mexico after that country passed a 7-peso hike on sugary beverages in 2014, reports the Associated Press.

The Navajo Nation’s new law is a direct response to the poor health of its residents. Approximately 25,000 Navajo Nation citizens already have diabetes, and another 75,000 are prediabetic, according to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service. Nearly a third of pregnancies in this community were complicated by diabetes.

Economics play a big role. The small sovereign nation has the highest poverty rate in the country, with 56 percent of people living below the poverty line. The medium family income? Just $11,885, according to the University of Arizona.

So that two percent markup might sound small, but it could hit tight budgets in a big way, pushing residents to make better choices for the long haul.

Photo credit: Landahlauts via Flickr

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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