UA survey suggests 'fat tax' won't stop consumers

Buyers are more likely to shun food
with fat warnings versus a fat tax 

Overweight shoppers avoid food with fat warnings

Shoppers who reach for unhealthy fattening foods in the grocery store are less likely to purchase with a warning label than they would be if a "fat tax" is added to the price.

When researchers at the University of Alberta compared consumer buying relative to cost, to that of warning labels about what's in the food, they found consumers who are overweight were more likely to avoid unhealthy snacks with a warning.

Price no deterrent to buying unhealthy food

In the study, shoppers were asked to choose either a healthy or a fattening snack that cost between 50 cents and 2 dollars. Among 3 groups of shoppers, only those who were overweight were less likely to choose junk food if there was a warning label about the fat content.
Sean Cash, an adjunct professor of rural economy at the U of A who led the study said, "The consumers who heeded the label didn't care about the price, but responded to the warning and were much less likely to buy the snack." 
He adds, "Based on the reaction of shoppers, a tax seems to be the least effective for the people you want to reach most. If you want to use the tax to change the habits of consumers, it won't be effective. A nickel here and there in tax isn't going to change behaviour in a big way."

Cash says a so called fat tax could also have unexpected outcomes. People will likely buy cheaper brands of soda, for instance or purchase in bulk to save money. 

The survey that included 364 shoppers shows imposing a fat tax on junk food won't stop consumers from buying unhealthy foods. Those surveyed who were overweight avoided foods with a high fat content warning on the label that included a note they would be taxed on the item. 

Two of the groups surveyed shunned both fatty and taxable junk food. The group that was overweight tended to avoid buying food that had a warning label about the high fat content. The survey suggests food tax would do little to curb consumer eating behaviors. 

Source: University of Alberta

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