Changing Economic Environments

Our work on changing economic environments:

At the BHRU, we study interventions that can influence prices or income and hence change the financial advantages or disadvantages people face when making choices relating to tobacco, alcohol, healthier or less healthy foods, and physical activity.

These interventions include the use of taxes, subsidies or income transfers, as well as retail practices such as sales promotions.


Why is this important?

Like physical environment interventions, these interventions have the potential to influence many people at once because they involve changing features of the economic environment (namely prices and income) that most people are exposed to.

Click on the images below to find out more about the work we are doing in this area:


Key Studies:

  • Would taxing sweet snacks bring greater health benefits than taxing sugar-sweetened drinks?

    In April 2018, the UK Government introduced a levy on sugary drink producers. Our study looks at whether increasing the price of sweet snacks would be as effective.

    We found that a 10% increase in the price of sweet snacks could lead to a similar reduction in consumer demand as the same price increase for sugar-sweetened drinks.

    However, such a price increase is estimated to have knock-on effects that may further reduce purchases of sugar-sweetened drinks and other snacks.

    Furthermore, as sweet snacks provide twice as much sugar in the diet as sugar-sweetened drinks, the overall reduction on sugar intake could be even greater than that observed with price increases for sugar-sweetened drinks.

    Are sweet snacks more sensitive to price increases than sugar-sweetened beverages: analysis of British food purchase data.  Smith, Cornelsen, Quirmbach, Jebb, Marteau, 2018.

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  • Would increasing the price of sugary soft drinks influence purchases of alcohol?

    The UK Government levy on sugary drinks producers began in April 2018, potentially influencing the cost of a large range of non-alcoholic beverages.

    This study looked at how increasing the price of non-alcoholic drinks could influence purchases of alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine and cider, in supermarkets.

    We found that increasing the price of sugary drinks could increase purchases of lager, while increases in the price of diet drinks could increase purchases of beer, cider and wines.

    Effect of increasing the price of sugar-sweetened beverages on alcoholic beverage purchases: an economic analysis of sales data. Quirmbach, Cornelsen, Jebb, Marteau, Smith, 2018.

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  • Why don’t people like government increasing prices on unhealthy items?

    Stack of coins isolated on the background.Price interventions can be one of the most effective ways of changing behaviour – particularly for reducing consumption of tobacco and alcohol – but public support for these interventions is usually low.

    In this focus group study, three themes emerged for the low acceptability of price increases to reduce consumption of alcohol and fast foods:

    1. Doubting that it works to reduce consumption
    2. Believing government raises prices to generate revenue rather than protect health
    3. Not trusting the government.

    Highlighting evidence of intervention effectiveness might increase the acceptability of price interventions.

    Public attitudes towards pricing policies to change health-related behaviours: a UK focus group study. Somerville, Marteau, Kinmonth & Cohn, 2015.

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  • Are more deprived households likely to buy supermarket promotions?

    iStock_000016194323_MediumIn our study which looked at price promotions in stores, we found that people were more likely to purchase less-healthy food items on promotion, rather than healthier items, and that less deprived households were more likely to buy foods on promotion than more deprived households.

    This evidence suggests that whilst policies targeting promotions on less healthy foods might help people to have healthier shopping baskets, they would have little effect on reducing health inequalities caused by deprivation.

    Price promotions on healthier vs. less healthy foods: a hierarchical regression analysis of the impact on sales and social patterning of responses to promotions in Great Britain. Nakamura, Suhrcke, Jebb, Pechey, Almiron-Roig, Marteau, 2015.

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  • How acceptable are pricing policies for changing behaviour?

    How acceptable people find different interventions to reduce alcohol consumption varies depending on the type of intervention and its effectiveness.

    While our study found differences in acceptability depending on intervention type (affecting price, availability or advertising), acceptability increased when information on effectiveness was given.

    Acceptability increased most for minimum unit pricing, which had greater effectiveness in terms of expected outcomes compared with the other intervention types.

    Highlighting the effectiveness of interventions could increase their acceptability.

    Public acceptability of population-level interventions to reduce alcohol consumption: A discrete choice experiment. Pechey, Burge, Mentzakis, Suhrcke & Marteau. 2014.

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  • What is the evidence for food taxes and subsidies changing diets?

    Pound_coinsWe conducted a systematic scoping review of the evidence for the effects of interventions that change prices or income in ways that promote healthier diets or physical activity. The studies we found:

    • Focused on price promotions, taxes, supply-side subsidies and transfer payments (no studies were found on direct pricing legislation (e.g. minimum unit pricing)).
    • Largely focused on diet, with little evidence for interventions targeting physical activity.

    Price is a critical element of the environment shaping behaviour, but our results suggest the evidence for using economic instruments to promote dietary and physical activity is less compelling and more complex than some claim.

    Economic Instruments for Population Diet and Physical Activity Behaviour Change: A Systematic Scoping Review. Shemilt, Hollands, Marteau, Nakamura, Jebb, Kelly, Suhrcke & Ogilvie. 2013.

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    Use and cumulation of evidence from modelling studies to inform policy on food taxes and subsidies: biting off more than we can chew? Shemilt, Marteau, Smith & Ogilvie, 2013

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Publications related to changing economic environments: