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Tannista Banerjee, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts, is collaborating on two research projects with the Sylacauga Alliance of Family Enhancement, or SAFE, to study different ways to promote healthy food purchases and healthy eating through policy interventions. The goal of the study is to determine which policies may alleviate the growing adult and childhood obesity problem in the United States. For one of the studies, Banerjee is distributing healthy food discount coupons to be used at two Piggly Wiggly stores in Talladega County. She is then collecting the food purchase data from participating families in order to analyze the food purchase behavior patterns. The patterns will contribute to more cost efficient policy intervention designs which may address obesity problems.

“Higher taxes on unhealthy food are a fiscal tool that has been proposed in the literature as a solution to control obesity and promote healthy food purchase,” Banjaree said. “However, taxes have to be abnormally high to be effective. In a state like Alabama, which is one of the poorest states in the nation, and where the obesity rate is fifth highest among the nation, a rising tax on unhealthy food is not a practical solution to alleviate the obesity problem. Alternative interventions like education about healthy food consumption, discount coupons for healthy food items and fiscal incentives are more effective because low income families are expected to respond to reward-based fiscal incentives. We need effective policies to address the adult and childhood obesity problems and mitigate the problem from the nation.”

Banerjee received a Competitive Outreach Scholarship Grant from Auburn University to support her research efforts. Total funding for the project is nearly $60,000.

In addition, Banerjee and SAFE are working on a separate project to test the effectiveness of price incentives on healthy food purchases.

More information about press coverage on Banerjee’s research is available online. For more information on the collaboration, contact Banerjee at tzb0018@auburn.edu.