Use price policies to promote healthier diets, says WHO

By Joyeeta Basu

- Last updated on GMT

Price is one of the most important factors that determine consumer purchasing behaviour, it said
Price is one of the most important factors that determine consumer purchasing behaviour, it said

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Price policies could encourage healthier diets, according to a new publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe.

In recent years, scientists have looked at emerging evidence indicating that price policies applied to food can affect the type and amount of food that consumers buy. “This, in turn, could potentially contribute to improved diets and health by shifting consumption towards more fruit and vegetables and away from energy-dense food products high in sugar and fats​,”  said the report, ‘Using price policies to promote healthier diets​’.

Economic theory identifies price as one of the most important factors in determining consumer purchasing behaviour for a wide range of goods​,” it said. “The evidence is largely consistent with the theory that price policies have the potential to influence consumer purchasing in the desired direction​.”

The report also summarised recent policy developments from different parts of the region where price policies to promote public health have been introduced, including in Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, and the European School Fruit Scheme.

Focus on Europe

In Finland, revenue collections were £150m (€204m) in 2013 with a forecast of £183.88m (€250m) for 2014, it said. It reported a decrease in consumption of sweets and soft drinks in 2011 and 2014, “but there was no formal evaluation to infer causality​”, it added.

On the other hand, France generated about £220m (€300m) per year since 2012 and after years of increasing sales, there was an immediate drop in sales of the products following introduction of the tax. A tax on all non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar or sweeteners is currently levied at approximately £0.05 (€0.07) per litre.

Econometric modelling had predicted a drop due to the tax​,” it said.


From the evidence, the report said taxes on sugar sweetened beverages and targeted subsidies on fruit and vegetables emerged as the policy options with the greatest potential to induce positive changes in consumption.

Furthermore, the revenue raised has, in some cases, been successfully ring-fenced for the health budget​,” it said.

The report also highlighted the importance of continued monitoring and evaluation, particularly in establishing baseline data at the outset, to understand the effects of the policy.

“There is significant scope for countries across Europe to advance the implementation of price policies for healthy diets in the coming years.

“Several valuable lessons for policy development have emerged from this publication, including the importance of identifying clear policy objectives, foreseeing unanticipated effects of the policy through smart policy design and investing in monitoring and surveillance,”​ it said.