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The Effect of Prices on Nutrition: Comparing the Impact of Product- and Nutrient-Specific Taxes

  • Matthew Harding
  • Michael Lovenheim

This paper provides an analysis of the role of prices in determining food purchases and nutrition using very detailed transaction-level observations for a large, nationally-representative sample of US consumers over the period 2002-2007. Using product- specific nutritional information, we develop a new method of partitioning the product space into relevant nutritional clusters that define a set of nutritionally-bundled goods, which parsimoniously characterize consumer choice sets. We then estimate a large utility-derived demand system over this joint product-nutrient space that allows us to calculate price and expenditure elasticities. Using our structural demand estimates, we simulate the role of product taxes on soda, sugar-sweetened beverages, packaged meals, and snacks, and nutrient taxes on fat, salt, and sugar. We find that a 20% nutrient tax has a significantly larger impact on nutrition than an equivalent product tax, due to the fact that these are broader-based taxes. However, the costs of these taxes in terms of consumer utility are not higher. A sugar tax in particular is a powerful tool to induce healthier nutritive bundles among consumers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19781.

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Date of creation: Jan 2014
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19781
Note: HE PE
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  4. Matthew Harding & Ephraim Leibtag & Michael F. Lovenheim, 2012. "The Heterogeneous Geographic and Socioeconomic Incidence of Cigarette Taxes: Evidence from Nielsen Homescan Data," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 169-98, November.
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  16. Chouinard Hayley H & Davis David E & LaFrance Jeffrey T & Perloff Jeffrey M, 2007. "Fat Taxes: Big Money for Small Change," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(2), pages 1-30, June.
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