Evaluation of the cost, equity and acceptability of three obesity prevention policies

Obesity prevention policies are becoming a priority for many governments. A narrative review conducted as part of the STOP project considered three contextual factors – cost, equity and social inequalities, and acceptability  to stakeholders – in relation to three policy options: health-related food taxes, front-of-pack nutrition labelling and marketing restrictions.

While we only found sparse availability of research material and unequal sources of evidence across the policies explored, some generalisations can be made and need to be considered when implementing obesity-prevention policies. In addition to all three policy interventions having evidence in favour of being cost-effective:

  • There seems to be a differential impact of food taxes on social groups by income or education levels;
  • The effects of front-of-pack food labelling are dependent on the format of the front-of-pack nutritional information. Clear and understandable formats demanding lower literacy or numeracy levels should be favoured when targeting lower-educated or lower-income consumers;
  • Children’s exposure to marketing may have a social gradient and restrictions to marketing will benefit children in proportion to their initial exposure. There should be increased access to information on processed food packs and on the protection of children from commercial incentives nudging towards unhealthy behaviours;
  • The implementation of statutory regulations seems to encourage industries to reformulate their products.