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Navajos pass higher tax on junk food

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Navajo Nation Council, in its weeklong winter session, passed a tax on junk food and eliminated a tax on fresh, healthy foods Thursday.

Sugary snacks like gummy bears will be subject to an additional 2 percent tax if legislation passed by the Navajo Nation Council becomes law. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Sugary snacks like gummy bears will be subject to an additional 2 percent tax if legislation passed by the Navajo Nation Council becomes law. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Denisa Livingston, a healthy food advocate, worked with about 75 other members of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance for the past two years to pass the 2 percent additional tax on sugary sodas and packaged snacks like doughnuts and chips, bringing the tax on those foods to 7 percent.

The second piece of approved legislation to encourage healthy eating eliminated the existing 5 percent tax on fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods like nuts and seeds.

If the legislation is approved by the president, it becomes law, she says.

After the vote, Livingston said, “We won. It will raise awareness about the epidemic of obesity and diabetes that we are facing. We will work to continue the discussion.”

The tax passed with a 12 to 7 vote, she said. The vote was 17 to 1 to eliminate tax on healthy food, she added.

Opponents were concerned for Navajos who live in remote areas and don’t have electricity. Opponents said those people, many elders, rely on packaged food. They added because those people are also often poor, the tax could be a hardship, Livingston said.

She and others crisscrossed the 27,000 square-mile Navajo Nation to spread the word that healthy eating and exercise can reduce obesity and control problems associated with diabetes and eliminate or reduce the need for medication.

The Indian Health Services Division of the Department of Health and Social Services report that American Indian and Alaska Native adults have an increased risk of diabetes 2.3 times higher when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Health experts say the cost of uncomplicated diabetes for an individual is $13,000, but those costs can soar to more than $100,000 a year if complications occur.

Many diseases and conditions are associated with obesity and diabetes, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke and renal failure.

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