by Monica Mason
America’s health in 2015 is in need of a pulse check — heart disease, diabetes and obesity are slowly killing communities of color. But one community that has gone relatively unnoticed is taking a stand for the sake of its citizens. The Navajo Nation, a group of roughly 250,000, has begun imposing a sales tax on sugary beverages and foods with “minimal-to-no-nutritional value” while lowering the prices of fresh produce (NPR.org, 1 April 2015).
According to Indian Health Services, approximately 10% of Navajo Nation residents have diabetes and 30% are pre-diabetic. “People addicted to sugar and junk food would pay any price to get what they want,” says Terrol Johnson, a member of the Tohono O’odham tribe in Arizona and publisher of Native Foodways magazine. “My hope is that the tax will go back into the community for more education, and to invest in school lunches.” Denisa Livingston, a spokeswomen for the volunteer group Din Community Advocacy Alliance, says that “with the tax measures, the Navajo people will have … ownership over healthy foods … and re-create our grocery stores.”
What might this look like across America? The soda tax debate remains highly controversial among consumers and brands alike, but change is coming. Berkeley’s Measure D, which passed by consumer vote in November 2014, imposes a 1-cent per ounce tax on companies that distribute sugar-sweetened beverages and flavored drinks (Forbes.com, 5 November 2014).
The long-term future for “junky” brands is looking bleak now that newly health-conscious consumers want to make better decisions. McDonald’s was once an American icon — now most consumers over the age of 10 can’t stomach the thought of it.