Publication Date

Spring 2014


Created for the History & Sociology of Science (HSOC) Senior Honors Thesis, overseen by Dr. Ann Greene

Advisor: Dr. Catherine Maclean

The United States' obesity rate has climbed to 33.8%, compared to 16.9% for all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. Obesity is linked to a variety of chronic health conditions; obesity-related diseased accounts for at least 2.8 million deaths world-wide and $79 billion dollar annually in medical expenses. Policymakers have proposed a tax on energy-dense, or low water-content, foods as a means of curbing this epidemic. In order for a food tax to be effective, a food must be both price and weight elastic, meaning consumption of calories and weight, respectively, must respond to changes in price. While a successful tax offers a plethora of public health benefits, the failure of such a tax has the potential to be severely regressive. Empirical literature suggests that price can alter the consumption patterns of certain foods, the substitution patterns and decision making process associated with purchasing food makes the effect of price on weight less clear. This study seeks to better understand consumer preferences as means of assessing the potential of an energy-dense food tax.

Key visual elements:

  • Graphic images
  • Results and discussion table



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Weighing in on Energy-Dense Food Taxes: How Food Preferences Relate to Obesity