OXFORD, England, May 18 (UPI) -- Taxes on unhealthy food might improve health, but the tax would need to be at least 20 percent to have a significant effect, British researchers said.
Oliver Mytton and colleagues at the University of Oxford in England said evidence suggests taxing a wide range of unhealthy foods or nutrients is likely to result in greater health benefits than narrow taxes, although the strongest evidence base is for a tax on sugary drinks.
For example, a U.S. study found a 35 percent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks -- $0.45 per drink -- led to a 26 percent decline in sales, the researchers said.
Models in other studies showed a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks in the United States would reduce obesity levels by 3.5 percent, while extending the value added tax at 17.5 percent to unhealthy foods in Britain could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year, the researchers said.
U.S. opinion polls on a tax on sugary drinks range from 37 percent to 72 percent supportive, but the food industry has said the taxes result in fewer products sold and would result in job losses, Mytton said.
The findings were reported in the British Medical Journal.