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The Potential Role of Taxes and Subsidies on Food in the Prevention of Obesity in Europe.
  1. Laura I Gonzalez-Zapata1,
  2. Carlos Alvarez-Dardet2,*,
  3. Erik Millstone3,
  4. Vicente Clemente-Gómez4,
  5. Michelle Holdsworth5,
  6. Rocio Ortiz-Moncada4,
  7. Tim Lobstein6,
  8. Katerina Sarri7,
  9. Bruna De Marchi8,
  10. Katalin Z Horvath9
  1. 1 Nutrition and Dietetics School, University of Antioquia, Colombia;
  2. 2 Community Nursing, Preventive Medicine & Public Health and History of Science,University of Alicante, Spain;
  3. 3 SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research Freeman Centre, University of Sussex, United Kingdom;
  4. 4 Preventive Medicine & Public Health and History of Science Department, University of Alicante, Spain;
  5. 5 Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France;
  6. 6 International Obesity Task Force, Spain;
  7. 7 Preventive Medicine & Nutrition Clinic. University of Crete, United Kingdom;
  8. 8 Institute of International Sociology, Greece;
  9. 9 Semmelweis University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Italy
  1. Correspondence to: Carlos Alvarez-Dardet, Public Health, University of Alicante, Edificio de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Alicante, Apdo 99, Alicante, 03080, Spain; carlos.alvarez{at}


Background: Obesity implies costs not only for the individual but also for society . We explore the opinions of stakeholders on the potential of taxes or subsidies, as measures for tackling obesity in Europe.

Methods: Structured interviews using Multicriteria Mapping, a computer based, decision support tool. With 189 interviewees drawn from 21 different stakeholder categories across nine members of the EU interviews, to appraise 20 pre-defined policy options aimed at reducing obesity, including ‘taxing obesity-promoting foods’ and ‘subsidising healthy foods’. A four step approach involved selecting options, defining criteria, scoring options quantitatively and weighting criteria to provide overall rankings of options. Interviews were recorded and transcribed to yield qualitative data.

Results: Compared with other policy options appraised, taxation and subsidies were not favourably received, mainly because they were considered difficult to implement. Overall, trade unions rated both options more favourably than all other stakeholder groups. As anticipated, both options received their lowest scores from representatives of the farming, food processing and advertising industries. Nutritional/obesity advisory experts and public sector caterers gave the most positive ratings to subsidies overall. Along with public health professionals large commercial retailers were most in favour of taxation.

Conclusions: Taxation and subsidies were poorly appraised compared with other policy measures, with stakeholders expressing reservations mainly focussed on the practicalities and cost of introducing such measures. Although that applying taxes/subsidies could be useful to combat obesity, our study suggests that most stakeholders still need to be convinced of their viability and acceptability when compared with other measures.

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