Economic evidence to support healthy eating policy

Learn how governments can implement cost-effective and cost-saving policy measures to increase healthy eating

Inside this healthy eating policy pack

What economic evidence exists in support of healthy eating policy approaches?

A 2018 rapid synthesis of economic evidence in support of population-level policy approaches for healthy eating provided the following evidence:1

Main economic finding Details
Mandatory labelling and traffic-light labelling are generally cost-effective or cost-saving interventions to improve the consumption of healthy foods across a variety of country contexts
  • A recent OECD report estimated the cost-effectiveness ratio of implementing food labelling interventions in Canada falls below $50,000 USD per DALY 10 years following implementation
  • A medium-quality review found the adoption of mandatory labelling was cost effective with an ICER of $5,282 USD per DALY, and cost-saving in Australia and Mexico
  • A primary study found implementing traffic-light labelling was cost-effective and cost-saving in Australia, with a cost-effectiveness ratio of $1,800 AUD per DALY averted
Adjusting the price of food is cost-effective to incentivize healthy eating, however, literature notes that the effectiveness of tax interventions are dependent on a variety of factors
  • A high-quality review found fiscal measures (including taxation of unhealthy foods or subsidies for healthy foods) had a probability of 100% being cost-effective and cost-saving in Australia, the UK and Mexico
  • A primary study found implementation of a 10% junk food tax to be cost-effective and cost-saving with a cost-effectiveness ratio of $30 AUD per DALY averted
  • A review and two primary studies suggest subsidies for healthy foods tend to be more effective and cost-effective in promoting healthy eating than use of taxes, especially for low income consumers
  • A medium-quality review indicated a fruit and vegetable subsidy that reduced price by 1% predicted a reduction of 6,733 cases of coronary heart disease and 2,946 cases of ischemic stroke in the US, at an average cost of $1.29M USD per life saved
  • A primary study found expansion of a 30% rebate on healthy foods purchased using food stamps was cost-effective with an ICER of $16,172 USD per QALY gained
  • A primary study comparing information campaigns and price interventions found the cost-to-life-years-saved ratio to be lowest for information campaign (3,000 EUR), followed by value-added tax reduction (99,000 EUR) and food stamp vouchers (403,000 EUR). Taxes were found to increase health inequalities, while food stamps were found to reduce health inequalities.
Reducing sodium in processed foods by establishing thresholds is a cost-effective intervention
  • A low-quality review found that regulation of sodium content in foods is consistently cost-effective and cost-saving across country contexts
  • A primary study found that reductions in sodium intake set at 1840mg/day would reduce blood pressure by 5/2mm Hg to manage hypertension, reduce annual health spending for hypertension in Canada by up to $430M/year, and an additional cost-savings of $108M/year via reduced spending on physician and lab services
  • A primary study estimated that reducing sodium intake by 1.0g per day, and replacing 1 energy per cent of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat could significantly reduce rates of cardiovascular disease in Finland, and was cost-saving of up to 225M EUR
  • A primary study found a reduction in sodium increased QALYs by 1.3M and saved $32.1B USD in medical costs over the lifetime of US adults aged 40-85
  • A primary study found setting mandatory 35% reduction in sodium content in all packaged foods, fast foods, and restaurant meals would result in a net gain of 235,000 QALYs
Evidence suggests workplace health promotion programs integrating diet and physical activity interventions (e.g., healthier food available at workplace canteens or vending machines) are likely cost-effective. 
  • A medium quality review indicated these workplace programs result in weight reduction, with a range of cost-effectiveness between $1.44 and $4.16 per pound of body weight loss


1 Waddell K, Wilson MG, Panchal P, Mattison CA. Rapid synthesis: Identifying effective and cost-effective population-level approaches to promote healthy eating. Hamilton: McMaster Health Forum, 29 March 2018.