First US Junk Food Tax Coming to Navajo Nation

Tax will fund healthy-eating projects
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2015 5:33 AM CDT
First US Junk Food Tax Coming to Navajo Nation
Professional golfer Notah Begay III talks to students in Albuquerque, NM, about his mission to combat diabetes among Native American youth.   (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

The Navajo Nation has some of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in America, and advocates are aiming to turn that around with a return to older ways—and America's first junk food tax. The initiative, which will go into effect next month, slaps a 2% tax on food with little or no nutritional value, including soda, chips, and cookies, and is paired with the elimination of a 5% sales tax on fresh fruit and vegetables, Mother Jones reports. Navajos say the move, which was approved last fall despite lobbying from the beverage industry, should serve as a model for other tribes, reports the Guardian, which notes that around a third of Navajo Nation residents are diabetic or pre-diabetic and more than 50% in some age groups are obese.

But eating healthy isn't easy on the huge reservation, which includes parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico: There are just 10 full-service grocery stores in an area the size of West Virginia, and much of their inventory consists of junk food, advocates say. The $1 million a year that the tax is expected to raise will be used for projects like community gardens and farmers markets to make healthy eating easier. Navajo Nation Council Delegate Jonathan Nez tells Mother Jones that the new tax has already started a conversation on "how to take better care of yourself, how to return back to the way we used to live, with fresh produce, vegetables, and fruit along with our own traditional unprocessed foods." (Another big problem for the Navajo: old uranium mines.)

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