The Money Behind Indian Country’s Junk Food

All beverages and food of "minimal-to-no nutritional value" sold on the Navajo reservation now incur an additional 2-cent tax.

Why Navajo Nation

According to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Diné Food Sovereignty report:

  • One of three Navajos are diabetic, 25,000 Navajos with diabetes, another 75,000 are pre-diabetic, and the reservation’s overweight/obesity range is 60%
  • On average, it costs over $13,000 per person annually to treat diabetes and the cost for treating diabetes-related complications can exceed $100,000 per person
  • Geographic isolation and economic factors result in health disparities and poorer health outcomes

Our nation is facing an epidemic – Denis Livingston, Diné Community Advocacy Alliance.

Navajo Nation Rewards Clean Food, Taxes Junk Food

This is all about creating a change, especially when we face health crises. And, since people are our best asset, we had to admit that our tribe has been hijacked by junk food, which is a weapon of mass destruction. – Denisa Livingston with the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance.
navajo tax on junk food

Best Way to Create Our Future Is to Make It

Navajo Nation is making history: Under the Healthy Diné Nation Act, the tribe is saying NO to disease.

So, the Nation passed three laws. And since there is no scientific definition of ‘junk food’, the tribe created its own.

First, the Healthy Food Tax law eliminated the 5% sales tax on fresh food such as produce, herbs, nuts, and beans. Since the Navajo Nation’s 27,000 square miles is federally recognized as a food desert, the combination of reduced costs and increased community nutrition projects will help people do what they already want to do for positive change.

Next, the Unhealthy Food Tax Law added 2-cent sales tax (in addition to the existing 5-cent sales tax on most to purchases of sugary beverages, fast food, and other empty calorie food. Tribal leaders estimate that the annual tax revenue on unhealthy food will be $3.1 million.

Finally the Community Wellness Development Project Fund Management Plan, which receives all of the revenue collected by the Healthy Diné Nation Act.  Tribal members can receive funding for grass-roots wellness projects such as food preparation classes, farming and vegetable gardens, and clean water initiatives, spurred on by social media and other channels.

What’s really exciting, according to Livingston, is the chance for the sovereign nation to re-establish its cultural values about community and cleaner eating. Even though there was opposition at the beginning to the legislation, including lobbyist from beverage companies, the Navajo Nation is now the first tribe to tax goods sold on the reservation, truly a historic milestone.

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