Shu Wen Ng, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
Dr Ng has been central to efforts to evaluate the impact of food taxes for almost a decade, and has most recently been working evaluating the impact of food subsidy and financial incentive programmes. In her Food Thinkers, she will take us through the options for pricing policies that increase the price of unhealthy beverages and foods (e.g., taxation, tariffs) or to decrease the price of healthier beverages and foods (e.g., subsidies, cash transfers) to improve diets. She will set out the growing global evidence around how, when and what about these policies seem to work ‘better’ in improving diets and longer-term health. Her talk will provide some examples from across the globe that show how these solutions may be possible. Although there are still many unknowns about the design, targeting, level, sequencing, integration, and implementation of pricing policies, there is already clear evidence that health taxes—particularly sugar drink taxes—are cost-effective. Meanwhile, the evidence on healthy incentives is starting to grow. Dr Ng will show that it is particularly critical to consider the context when designing effective pricing policies. If well-designed and implemented, she will make the case they can achieve the goals of reducing consumption of unhealthy beverages and foods, improving dietary quality, narrowing existing nutritional and health disparities, and encouraging economic and social development. Nonetheless, pricing policies alone will not succeed. Political will to prioritize well-being, protections against industry interference, and public buy-in are necessary alongside additional supportive policy measures such as marketing and labelling regulations. Jurisdictions should consider these pricing policy issues and their contexts carefully, in collaboration with community partners and researchers, to design multi-duty actions and to be prepared for future windows of opportunities to open for policy passage and implementation.
Shu Wen Ng is a health economist and Associate Professor of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina in the United States. Her work seeks to understand individual and household-level decisions about dietary behaviours and their health impacts, accounting for the fact that decisions are constrained by monetary, time and biological factors, and are made within a broader environmental or policy context. She uses tools/approaches from economics, epidemiology, sociology and public policy, and collaborates with a mix of disciplinary experts. She is Principal and co-Investigator on several foundation and US NIH studies that use ‘big-data’ on commercial store sales, household purchase, and nutrition label data at the barcode level (scanner data), alongside dietary intake and nutrition databases and policy databases. Analysing such data, Shu Wen has studied how policies such as taxation, subsidies, incentives, front-of-pack labels, and marketing regulations affect consumer purchases, diet, nutrition, and health outcomes across many settings, and how they can help narrow existing nutritional and health disparities. Some of her earlier model-based work contributed to the evidence behind the development of the sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes in Mexico and the UK, and she has been involved in conducting the impact evaluations of such taxes in Mexico, Berkeley and South Africa. She also co-chaired the US SSB tax evaluation advisory committee and is a member of the UK NIHR funded Soft Drinks Industry Levy evaluation study steering committee. She leads ongoing projects in the United States, South Africa, Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico, and supports projects in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and China. She also consults for the World Bank, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board and New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The talk will be followed by an online Q&A session.