Grocery food taxes and U.S. county obesity and diabetes rates

Lingxiao Wang, Yuqing Zheng, Steven Buck, Diansheng Dong, Harry M. Kaiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Grocery food taxes represent a stable tax revenue stream for state and municipal government during times of adverse economic shocks such as that observed under the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Previous research, however, suggests a possible mechanism through which grocery taxes may adversely affect health. Our objectives are to document the spatial and temporal variation in grocery taxes and to empirically examine the statistical relationship between county-level grocery taxes and obesity and diabetes. Methods: We collect and assemble a novel national dataset of annual county and state-level grocery taxes from 2009 through 2016. We link this data to three-year, county-level estimates based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on rates of obesity and diabetes and provide a nation-wide spatial characterization of grocery taxes and these two health outcomes. Using a county-level fixed effects estimator, we estimate the effect of grocery taxes on obesity and diabetes rates, also controlling for a subset of potential confounders that vary over time. Results: We find a 1 percentage point increase in grocery taxes is associated with 0.588 and 0.215 percentage point increases in the county-level obesity and diabetes rates. Conclusion: Counties with grocery taxes have increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes. We estimate the economic burden of increased obesity and diabetes rates resulting from grocery taxes to be $5.9 billion. Based on this estimate, the benefit-cost ratio of removing grocery taxes across the United States only considering the effects on obesity and diabetes rates is 1.90.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalHealth Economics Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service through a cooperative agreement under federal grant number 58–4000–8-0020.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Diabetes
  • Grocery tax
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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