Navajo Nation Taxes Junk Food

Tuesday, April 28, 2015
(AP photo)

Determined to reduce obesity and help people eat better, the Navajo Nation this month implemented a tax on junk food, which will apply to food sold in its 100 convenience stores, as well as in its fast food outlets, restaurants and all 10 of the reservation’s grocery stores.


Officially named the Healthy Diné Nation Act (pdf), the two-cent tax on junk food now applies throughout the Navajo Nation, a community of about 250,000 people populating a 27,000-square-mile expanse of land stretching across parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The tax will be added to anything deemed to have “minimal to no nutritional value,” which is expected to include to all desserts, sodas, chips, and fried foods.


Tribal leaders and tax supporters said the change was necessary to curb obesity rates, which are three times the national average among Navajos. In addition, about 30% of Navajos suffer from diabetes or are pre-diabetic.


The junk food tax, described as the first of its kind in the United States, comes to a community where up to 90% of the grocery stores’ inventory qualifies as junk food. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has described the entire Navajo Nation a “food desert” because of the lack of healthy foods, according to National Public Radio.


More than half of the Navajo Nation’s residents drive up to 240 miles round trip, well off the reservation, just to get to a grocery store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables. The tribe has given its citizens an incentive to do more of that by eliminating a 5% tax on those healthier foods. It’s also hoped that move might make freshly grown product become more available to outlets within the reservation.


The tax, which is scheduled to expire in 2010, is expected to generate between $1 million and $3 million a year. That revenue is earmarked to help fund a variety of farm initiatives on the reservation.

- Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

The Navajo Nation's Tax On Junk Food Splits Reservation (by Laurel Morales, National Public Radio)

A Junk Food Tax in a Food Desert: Navajo Nation Tries to Curb Unhealthy Snacking (by Alysa Landry, Indian Country)

Navajos Fight Their Food Desert With Junk Food And Soda Taxes (by Eliza Barclay, National Public Radio)

The Navajo Nation Will Soon Have the Country's First-Ever Junk-Food Tax (Leilani Clark, Mother Jones)

President Shelly Signs Healthy Dine’ Nation Act of 2014 into Law; Resolution of the Navajo Council (Navajo Nation) (pdf)


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