Navajo nation to get first junk food tax in U.S. (Reuters / Thinkstock)
Navajo nation to get first junk food tax in U.S.
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How should governments govern soda? An outright ban on large sugary drinks? A tiny tax? Or not at all?

This debate has been playing out in New York and Berkeley, California. And places in between.

One community recently made drastic moves. It will target eating habits.

The Navajo National Council has approved a 2-percent increase in sales tax. It is on some foods. Those foods include pastries, fried foods, desserts, chips and sodas, reports Leilani Clark for Mother Jones magazine. She writes:

Authored by the Din Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA), a grassroots organization of community volunteers, the legislation was modeled on existing taxes on tobacco and alcohol, as well as other fat and sugar tax initiatives outside the United States. The act follows on the heels of a spring 2014 amendment that removed a 5 percent tribal sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Navajo law is called the Healthy Din Nation Act. It hasn't attracted the same amount of media attention as New York's infamous soda ban. However, it will bring the total tax on low-nutrition foods to 7 percent. All the revenue from the increase will go towards a fund. The money will be used to build "wellness centers, parks, basketball courts, trails, swimming pools, picnic grounds and health education classes." That comes from a report by Alysa Landry for Indian Country. She adds:

An estimated 10 percent of the Navajo population has diabetes, said David Foley, an epidemiologist for the Navajo Nation Division of Health. In numbers, thats about 24,600 people. Another 75,000 people are pre-diabetic.

The junk food tax is unprecedented, not just in Indian Country but in the nation as a whole, said Crystal Echo Hawk. She was the executive director of the Notah Begay III Foundation, a non-profit organization that combats obesity and diabetes among Natives.

This is the only one in the country, so the national significance of this cannot be underplayed, she said. Bigger cities have been trying to get something like this passed for years and the Navajo Nation is the first to get it done.

Will the tax help health outcomes for the Navajo population? That remains to be seen. Landry points out that the border towns around the reservation still will sell junk food. There, the cost will not include the extra tax. However, previous soda taxes, such as the one in Mexico that began at the start of 2014, do seem to show some effect on soda sales. To what extent is debated. That is according to a report by Tamar Haspel for the Washington Post.

Haspel suggests another approach. Taxing added sugar in the supply chain itself might be more effective. She writes:

If we tax sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate and other added sugars at the point where theyre manufactured or imported (we already do tax imported sugar), we essentially tax everything with added sugar, commensurate with its sugar content (with the exception of foods already manufactured before we import them). An input tax, its called.

The Navajo Nations tax is somewhere between a soda tax and an input tax. Whether the tax and the fund to create active spaces for the tribe helps remains to be seen.

The tax hike will expire at the end of 2018. The Council could vote to extend it.

Critical thinking challenge: Why was the tax removed from fresh fruit and vegetables?

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COMMENTS (56)
  • erinbundy-Goo
    4/10/2015 - 10:04 a.m.

    In the Navajo nation, tax was put on junk food, but was taken off of fresh fruit and vegetables. The text states that 24,600 people in the Navajo community are diabetic. The text also states that 75,000 people are pre-diabetic in the Navajo community. The evidence from the text shows that taking the tax off of healthy foods, and putting it on junk food, may encourage a healthier lifestyle for the Navajo people, bringing down the numbers of pre-diabetic individuals.

  • ethanme-Cur
    4/10/2015 - 12:08 p.m.

    i think mcdonalds isnt so good for you. its a conection no afence to the people who eat at mcdonalds. Go eat at A&W please.

  • SadieB-1
    4/10/2015 - 12:36 p.m.

    The Navajo Nation became the first to pass a tax on some foods that have caused obesity and diabetes within the tribes. The laws places a 2-percent increase in sales tax on some foods like pastries, fried foods, desserts, chips and sodas. Many big cities have been trying to pass something like the Healthy Din Nation Act, but they never followed through. For example, New York once placed a ban on soda, but it didn't last. Tamar Haspel believes that the tax is both a soda tax and an input tax. An input tax would form when you tax sugar, fruit juice concentrate, and high-fructose corn syrup where they are manufactured. The leaders plan to use the tax money on public activity areas, like parks, basketball courts, and swimming pools. Since there are still stores on the outskirts of the nation that will sell junk food without the tax, it remains to be seen whether the tax benefits the Navajo Nation. I think that this tax won't really work because if the citizens want to eat junk food, they will still buy it.

  • DylanM-4
    4/10/2015 - 02:35 p.m.

    The Navajo tribe has recently added an extra two percent tax on sugary drinks. The hope with this movement is that they will be able to control the consumption of these drinks. The extra money made from this tax will go towards a fund for public athletic projects. I think this is a good starting point that the rest of the country to follow to limit obesity.

  • jaisong-Kie
    4/10/2015 - 03:03 p.m.

    that would be horrible to have to pay.if i had to pay to eat junk food i would move away.i would not be able to stay and not eat.

  • rubelm-Koc
    4/10/2015 - 08:14 p.m.

    Just leave it how it is right now it is fine I do not know why they want to mess with the system but it's the government .

  • LucasF-1
    4/10/2015 - 09:15 p.m.

    A Navajo nation is adding a special tax. That tax is on junk food products, such as Macdonalds and Burger King. They want to stop fat people from being so fat. I am glad they are stopping fat people from eating fat foods.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/10/2015 - 11:18 p.m.

    I think that it is a good idea to get the tax up for fast food places because people in Navajo are eating too many food that is unhealthy that they could easily get diabetes by your skin that is rotting because vegetables clean up all the grease inside our body which helps us from not getting diabetes. If the government of Navajo is getting the tax up for buying a lot of greasy, high in fat, too many sugar will lead to diabetes which nobody wants to get on their body.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why was the tax removed from fresh fruits and vegetables?
    Answer: The tax was removed from fresh fruits and vegetables because fresh fruits and vegetables are good for our body so if we eat them a lot, we won't develop diabetes.

  • HenryS-3
    4/11/2015 - 05:13 p.m.

    This article is about the Native American tax on fast food. It will place a 2% tax on fast food in New York, Berkeley, California, and other states increasing it to 7%. Great article, the only problem is the author should have said Native American Country instead of Indian Country as some people might take offense to it.

  • MaggieM-3
    4/11/2015 - 10:48 p.m.

    The Navajo Nation was the first in the United States to create a tax on unhealthy food. New York and Berkeley California have debated the issue of soda and other unhealthy foods, but the Navajo are the first people really taking action. Ten percent of Navajos are diabetic and another 75,000 are pre diabetic. The new act brings the total tax on unhealthy foods to seven percent. All of the money gained by the tax will be used to build parks, and other recreation centers that encourage healthy living. This new tax is following the previous ban on the five percent tax on fruits and vegetables. The towns on the edge of the reservation will still sell the junk food without the tax however. Another approach to the problem is taxing everything with added sugar when it is manufactured, or imported. This allows all things with sugar to be taxed relative to how much sugar is in the object.
    I think that creating a tax on all junk food items is really a great idea and could help the obesity problem in this nation a great deal. I however do not understand the tax on all added sugars because it does not account for oily and greasy carbohydrates that are totally unhealthy. I also feel that taxing the producer not the consumer might not be the most effective, because the producer can come up with other ways to make up for the lost money rather than raising the prices on junk food like paying employes less or using lower quality ingredients.

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