Will taxing junk food help reduce obesity rates? The Navajo Nation — one of the country's largest reservations — certainly hopes so. According to Mother Jones, it will be the first place in the United States to impose such a tax when it goes into effect next month. Last November, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the Healthy Diné Act of 2014 into law. It adds a two percent sales tax on all foods with "minimal-to-no-nutritional value" including chips, soda, fried foods, and desserts.
The Navajo Nation — which is located in the Southwestern part of the country — is considered a food desert by the United States government, which means "heavily processed foods are more available than fresh produce and fruit." Plus, much of the population is heavily reliant on food stamps, and processed junk food is often more affordable than fruits and vegetables. This has resulted in serious health problems. Partners in Health notes that of the nation's 300,000 members, 25,000 have type-2 diabetes, and another 75,000 are pre-diabetetic. Many others have cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Indian Country writes there are other benefits from the junk food tax too. The estimated $1 million revenue from the tax will go towards a fund to build "wellness centers, parks, basketball courts, trails, swimming pools, picnic grounds, and health education classes." But not everyone is in support of the bill. A delegate for the Navajo Nation Council notes that some fear the tax will hit their already stretched wallets.
The Navajo Nation may be the first to tax junk food, but they aren't the first to implement a "sin tax," a tax on unhealthy items. Last year, the city of Berkley, California approved a tax that applies to sweetened sugary beverages like soda. And while it was unsuccessful, New York City also attempted to impose a ban on large sugary drinks in 2012.