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One part of the study will examine the impact of subsidies in fruit and vegetables


£1.4 million to fund research on improving health through food subsidies and taxes

The Universities of Oxford and Exeter will lead an assessment of the impact of food subsidies and taxes on public and planetary health, through a £1.4million funding grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Researchers will investigate a range of subsidies and taxes that the public believe could help people achieve healthy, sustainable diets. For example, they will assess how subsidies of fruit and vegetables could encourage consumers to take up healthier choices when it comes to the weekly food shop – or to what extent new taxes of foods that are high in salt and saturated fats could impact consumers’ shopping habits.

Richard Smith, Professor of Health Economics at the University of Exeter, who is leading the project, said: “Food subsidies and taxes are a major policy concern in the UK and globally, but teasing out evidence is incredibly complex in substantiating arguments behind new policy proposals. We’re delighted in being able to secure funding to engage with colleagues at Oxford, Reading, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Food Foundation on this study.”

The project – called CO-designing for healthy People and Planet: food system Economic Research (COPPER) – aims to provide a broad set of robust policy recommendations, which could help create a healthier society and reduce the environmental footprint of food supply chains, if implemented. These proposals will be based on the outcome of deliberative forums (sometimes known as ‘citizen juries’) held with members of the public. Later, the team will present their policy proposals to government policy makers to assess their feasibility.

Using advanced computer modelling and simulation data, the team will investigate how purchasing habits change when prices go up or down. This will allow the team to predict the real-world impact of their policy proposals on shoppers and food manufacturers.

Peter Scarborough, Professor of Population Health at Oxford Population Health, said: “We want our study to be as useful as possible to policymakers working in health, the environment and the treasury. Policymakers need to know what the public value with regard to controversial policies aimed at changing prices of foods – especially in the current cost-of-living crisis.”

The food we eat impacts both our health and the planet. The researchers will investigate the potential impact of food subsidies and taxes on public health, including cardiovascular diseases and health inequalities. Diet-related diseases are responsible for the second largest health burden in the UK (after tobacco) and food is responsible for a third of all UK greenhouse gas emissions.

Rates of obesity and diet-related diseases such as cancer and heart disease are higher in low-income stratums of society. Subsidies and taxes in the UK food system could be the answer in encouraging us to have diets that are good for us, good for the planet and reduce health inequalities.

These efforts will culminate in the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impact of such policies on public health, health inequalities, the environment, household finances and the UK’s economy.

For more detail on the study, visit the Oxford Population Health website. 

Date: 26 July 2022

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