Ayoub Al-Jawaldeh and Alexa Meyer

Published On


Page Range

pp. 83–94

3.1 Fiscal Policies for Healthy and Sustainable Diets

The high prevalence of overweight and obesity and the non-communicable diseases associated with it place a heavy burden on healthcare systems of the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Accordingly, governments of the region’s countries have a growing interest in policies and strategies to encourage healthier and more sustainable dietary patterns and make healthy food more available and accessible. To support member states in this effort, the WHO, as anchor agency of Action Track 2 of the Food Systems Summit 2021 “Shifting to Sustainable and Healthy Consumption Patterns” has proposed six “game-changing” actions: 1) fiscal policies for healthy and sustainable diets; 2) public food procurement and service policies for a healthy diet sustainably produced; 3) regulation of marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages, including breastmilk substitutes; 4) food product reformulation; 5) front-of-pack labelling; and 6) food fortification. Part 3 of the book takes a closer look at these actions with a special focus on their implementation in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Chapter 3.1 is dedicated to the use of fiscal policies to promote healthy and sustainable food choices while reducing consumption of less healthy products. Such policies include the repurposing of agricultural and food subsidies to increase the availability of and access to healthy foods and the taxation of unhealthy foods. Subsidies for staple foods are intended to ensure food security, but they have the side effect of encouraging consumption of energy-rich but nutrient-poor foods at the expense of more nutritious but more expensive foods like fruits and vegetables. Repurposing subsidies to make the latter more affordable is therefore a goal of nutrition and health policies in many countries in the region, even though subsidization of fruits and vegetables is not widely practised so far. A growing number of countries worldwide are introducing taxation of unhealthy foods and beverages to discourage their consumption. In most cases, taxes are imposed on sugar-sweetened beverages and this approach has also been taken by the Member states of Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Iran, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although the recent introduction of these measures in most countries does not allow a conclusive evaluation, the first effects look promising, with a notable decrease in sales of carbonated soft drinks and energy drinks in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.