A survey by University of Alberta researchers of 364 shoppers in random Alberta grocery stores found that while price alone wouldn't deter people from reaching for junk food, shoppers did respond to a label that warned of high fat content and included a note that the item was being taxed because of it.
Shoppers in the study were asked to choose between healthy and high-fat snacks, some of which carried a hypothetical warning label.
Consumer responses fell into three categories, a university release said Thursday. While two of the groups were already sensitive to either the price or less healthy aspect of some of the snacks and tended to avoid them, one of the groups -- the one with the highest body weight--seemed deterred only by the warning label, researchers said.
The researchers theorize warning labels pack a bigger behavioral punch because they are far more noticeable than the price differences that would result from snack taxes.
Therefore, including warning labels on unhealthy foods would be a better option than a fat tax, the researchers said.
"Based on the reaction of shoppers, a tax seems to be the least effective for the people you want to reach most," economy professor Sean Cash said. "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 behavior in a big way."