The first junk food tax in the U.S. goes into effect Wednesday in the Navajo Nation.
Known as the Healthy Dine Nation Act of 2014, the legislation increases the sales tax on “all minimal- to no-nutritional-value food items” by 2 percent.
The tax revenue will benefit community wellness projects such as “farming, vegetable gardens, greenhouses, farmers markets, clean water, exercise equipment [and] health classes,” according to a Navajo Nation press release issued when the legislation was signed in November.
David Foley, an epidemiologist for the Navajo Nation Division of Health, told Indian Country last year that an estimated 10 percent of the Navajo population has diabetes – about 24,600 people – and another 75,000 have pre-diabetes.
The legislation states that obesity rates in the Navajo Nation range from 23 percent to 60 percent, and overweight rates range from 17 percent to 39 percent.
The new tax follows the elimination of the Navajo Nation’s sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables, water, nuts, seeds and nut butters. Critics argue, however, that the tax changes will make it more expensive overall for many people to eat in what the Los Angeles Times calls “one of the most economically depressed areas in the country, where more than 40 percent of people are unemployed.”
As the Times reports:
For many in the tribe, a limited budget and few stores to choose from — the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared parts of the vast reservation a food desert — mean gas stations and convenience stores are their primary grocers.
For the $7 she could spend on a dozen apples, Neagle, 54, could stretch her dollar further in the prepared and processed food aisles: $7 would buy more than 30 boxes of Maruchan Ramen Noodles or seven frozen Banquet Value Meals — one of which carried 480 calories and one-third of the daily dietary recommendations for sodium and fat.
The Native American reservation covers more than 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, making it bigger than U.S. states such as Massachusetts, Maryland and West Virginia.
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