The Navajo Nation is going to use sales tax policies to try changing food habits on the largest Indian reservation in the United States.
The Navajo Nation Council on Jan. 30 approved an additional 2-percent sales tax on so-called “junk foods,” including all sugary beverages. The addition will increase the total sales tax on those items to 7 percent.
At the same time, the existing 5-percent sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables and nutritious snacks such as seeds and nuts was cut to zero on the 27,425 square-mile reservation that spans northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico.
The council voted 12-7 to impose the additional 2-percent sales tax on junk foods and 17-1 to entirely eliminate sales taxes on healthy foods.
“Each one of us here has a relative that’s diabetic, and we face that fact every single day,” Council Delegate Danny Simpson said, noting that the added sales tax is part of a campaign to promote healthy living and increase awareness about the diabetics epidemic affecting a growing number of Navajo people.
Included on the list of foods getting the higher tax treatment are sweetened beverages and snacks low in essential nutrients and high in salt, fat and sugar. The latter include chips, candy, cookies and pastries.
Revenue from the extra 2-percent sales tax will go to a Community Wellness Development Project Fund to finance wellness centers, community parks, basketball courts, walking, running and bike trails, swimming pools and community gardens.
Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie expressed doubts about using sales tax policies to change behaviors and predicted that higher junk food prices on the reservation will drive residents to make purchases outside its boundaries.
After a Dec. 31, 2018, sunset clause was added to the additional sales tax, Tsosie voted for the legislation to see what happens.
The council votes were victories for community organizers who have worked for two years to promote more healthy eating habits on the Navajo Nation in order to combat the growing problems of obesity and diabetes. Along with other diseases related to obesity, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and renal failures, the organizers say that unhealthy food choices are driving up health care costs on the reservation and must be turned around.
The population on the reservation totals about 175,000, but the area is so large that there are just slightly more than six residents per square mile. Many travel long distances to make any grocery purchases, resulting in packaged foods being common choices.
Diabetes is about 2.3 times more common on the Navajo Nation than off. The new sales tax rates take effect with the signature of Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly.© Food Safety News