#464: Do Sugar Taxes Work?: Evidence on Potential Policies – Kathryn Backholer, PhD

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Guest Information
  3. Overview
  4. Related Resources
  5. Detailed Study Notes (Premium Subscribers Only)
  6. Transcript (Premium Subscribers Only)


The current food environment is continuously highlighted as a problem for public health. And so there is a strong focus in both public policy and research circles to determine which strategies could lead to a healthier food environment.

One potential strategy that is widely recommended by public health experts is the use of fiscal/taxation policies to decrease the consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages. By making unhealthy foods and beverages relatively more expensive than healthy foods and beverages it is hoped that this would alter the composition of the average diet in a favorable manner.

This is based on economic theory and evidence showing that most foods are relatively price “inelastic”. This means that increases in the prices of particular foods can be expected to lead to reductions in the purchase of those foods.

But there have also been some concerns raised about the potential effectiveness of strategies aimed at taxing a certain nutrient (e.g. sugar) or a group of foods. There are worries that such policies wouldn’t lead to healthier diets; with people either not changing behavior or just substituting in other processed foods that industry has formulated to avoid a specific nutrient tax.

So what does the current evidence say?

With a number of countries having implemented a range of taxes or health levies, what lessons can we learn from these? And what does the best public health nutrition currently tell us about the likely effectiveness of different policies or interventions?

To get to some evidence-based answers, Dr. Kathryn Backholer, an Associate Professor at Deakin University, is on the podcast to discuss the current state of the evidence on various taxes and levies on different nutrients and unhealthy foods.

Guest Information

Kathryn Backholer, PhD

Kathryn Backholer, PhD is an Associate Professor at Deakin University, Australia. Dr. Backholer is Co-Director of the Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition. She leads a program of research focused on the social, commercial and cultural determinants of population health and is particularly interested in interdisciplinary solutions to complex public health problems.

She is based out of Deakin’s Institute for Health Transformation in the School of Health and Social Development.  Dr. Backholer is a National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow and a Fellow of the Public Health Association of Australia (FPHAA).


  • What are ‘commercial determinants of health’?
  • What types of ‘taxation’ interventions/policies are potential options?
  • What is the proposed mechanism by which this helps?
  • Taxes on SSBs have now been introduced in over 40 countries: Results?
  • Do changes in price of food products lead to changes in consumption?
  • Ultimately, how is the overall dietary pattern and health impacted?
  • Unintended consequences of policy
  • Factors that will impact how effective a taxation policy will likely be:
  • The need for multiple concurrent strategies

Detailed Study Notes

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