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Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States
the benefits of the tax incentive offered for lower-sodium foods against the potentially lower revenue that might occur if many of their customers prefer higher-sodium foods because of their taste. It is unclear whether food manufacturers and restaurant/foodservice operators would consider it to their advantage to offer lower-sodium foods once they evaluate the total potential effect on their profits. Furthermore, food manufacturers and restaurant/foodservice operators that can most easily reduce the sodium content of their foods are likely to do so, with the result that this strategy might achieve reductions only in some foods offered in some locations. In other words, tax incentives may not result in broad sodium intake reduction across the population. Because of the uncertainties regarding the resulting reduction of sodium intake, the costs of implementing a tax incentive system (including the extensive reporting requirements that would be needed) would likely exceed the benefits of such a strategy.
Salt Tax on Foods with High Sodium Content
Public policy advocates have recently been making the case for instituting food taxes on certain foods that are suspected to be leading causes of obesity4 (Brownell and Frieden, 2009; Brownell et al., 2009). These types of taxes, often referred to as “sin taxes,” are typically excise (i.e., per-unit) taxes imposed on particular products that are believed to be harmful to society (Williams and Christ, 2009). By increasing the prices that consumers pay for these potentially harmful products, this theory suggests that consumers will reduce their purchases, substitute more healthful alternatives, and thus improve public health. Although these taxes are typically proposed for foods such as calorically sweetened beverages and high-fat snacks to reduce their consumption due to concerns about obesity, it has also been suggested that foods high in sodium could be taxed to reduce their consumption due to concerns about diseases associated with high sodium intake.
There is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of a sodium tax or to ensure that it will not result in unintended consequences. Past research has shown that consumers are not very responsive to small changes in food prices (i.e., food prices are relatively inelastic). Thus, the tax rate on high-sodium foods would have to be fairly substantial to induce a sufficiently large change in food purchases in order to have a major influence on health (Forshee, 2008; Golan et al., 2009; Waist banned, 2009). This has already been demonstrated by the fact that states that have implemented taxes on soft drinks have not seen a substantial effect