The Labour policy of removing GST off fresh fruit and veges is a very good example of evidence-based policy development.
NZ is the third fattest country in the OECD (astounding). The productivity and health costs associated with this are huge – and growing.
Auckland University and Otago University medical schools undertook a joint research project into ways to influence consumer behaviour around the purchase healthy foods. Three groups were set up; 1) control group, 2) a group given very targeted information and education about the outcomes of healthy purchases, and 3) a group that were given information and a 12.5% price discount. The result: no change from control group (expected), no change from the group given a high level of education and information only (surprising), however, a 11% increase in the purchase of healthy food by those who received a 12.5% discount.
After consultation with a lead member of this research team, we decided that one of the best ways to influence buyer behaviour and promote healthy choices was provide a price incentive. This works. Six months after the study had finished and prices returned to normal for the third group, the researchers found the majority in this group were still making healthy purchase decisions.
So, education alone will not work in changing the eating habits / purchase decisions of the vast majority of NZers. A price incentive does. If anyone has a more effective way to directly target the obesity problem then I am very interested in hearing, because while it is a problem now, it is set to become an epidemic within a short space of time.
As an aside, we did briefly consider a ‘fat tax’ on unhealthy foods, however, ‘unhealthy’ is very difficult to define (under many definitions, milk and cheese are ‘unhealthy’) and so we decided that in this case, it is easier to remove a tax than add one.