Targeted food pricing policies more likely to benefit Māori and poor

15 October 2013

Targeted food pricing policies, such as taxes on high fat foods or subsidies on healthy foods, can help improve people’s diets.

New research conducted in New Zealand shows that shifts in diet for a given price change are generally larger among Māori and lower income groups.

The findings of the study appear in a new research paper published by international scientific journal, “PLOS ONE” – a peer-reviewed, open-access, online journal issued by the Public Library of Science (PLOS). The paper forms part of the SPEND study, which aims to estimate the effects of a range of health-related food taxes and subsidies on population food purchases and burden of disease.

The paper was authored by researchers from the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) at the University of Auckland, the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research, and the University of Otago’s Departments of Economics and Public Health.

According to lead author Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu, programme leader for nutrition research at NIHI, the findings suggest the effects of food pricing policies could be more beneficial for low-income households, as well as Māori.

“The greater sensitivity of these groups to price changes means food pricing policies could have more positive effects on their health,” says Professor Ni Mhurchu.

“Our analysis suggests that health-related food taxes and subsidies could alter the diets and nutritional health of these priority populations more than those of high-income and majority ethnic groups”, she says.

“For example, estimates in the study suggest a 10% subsidy on vegetables could lead to a 6 % increase in consumption by the highest income group studied, but an 11% increase in consumption among the lowest income group.”

A number of leading bodies have advocated health-related food taxes to improve the nutritional quality of diets, raise revenue to support population health interventions, and send a clear message to consumers and the food industry about which foods are healthier.

While increasing evidence suggests health-related food taxes and subsidies are likely to shift consumption in the desired direction and improve health, there has been limited international evidence on the sensitivity of low-income and priority populations to price changes.

The purpose of the research paper, titled “Food prices and consumer demand: differences across income levels and ethnic groups” was to address this issue. The analyses presented in the paper describe the effects of price changes on consumer demand for major commonly consumed food groups in New Zealand.

They provide a comprehensive summary of food demand and consumption behaviour, with particular attention to differences in price effects across income levels and ethnic groups. The results demonstrate important differences across income levels and ethnic groups.

The researchers analysed food expenditure data from National Household Economic Surveys in 2007/08 and 2009/10 and Food Price Index data from 2007 and 2010 in their study.


For more information please contact:

Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Programme Leader - Nutrition
National Institute for Health Innovation
The University of Auckland
Phone: +64 9 923 4494
Mobile: +64 21 722 240


Suzi Phillips
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Communications
The University of Auckland

Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu