The sales tax on cookies, chips, sodas and other junk food sold within the territory of the Navajo Nation is set to increase. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed legislation that raises by 2 percentage points the sales tax on food with little to no nutritional value.
Tribal advocates for the junk-food tax sought a bill that could serve as a model for Tribal communities to improve the rates of diabetes and obesity among Native Americans. "We want them to think twice about buying healthy foods instead of soda pop, potato chips and the junk food," said Gloria Begay, an advocate of the tax. "The effort is really much more in the message of Navajo people making better choices for quality foods."
The bill cited statistics from the Navajo-area Indian Health Service that said about one-third of Navajo citizens are diabetic or pre-diabetic, and the obesity rate for some age groups is as high as 60 percent. Diabetes was the fourth-leading cause of death in the Navajo area from 2003 to 2005, the health service said.
The $1 million-a-year that the tax is expected to generate will pay for projects including farmer's markets, vegetable gardens and wellness and exercise equipment in the tribe's 110 communities. To increase the affordability of healthier foods, another bill to eliminate the 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruit and vegetables sold on the Navajo Nation went into effect October 1.