Health group proposes tax on junk food
By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times
GALLUP, June 28, 2012
A new group, dedicated to improving the health of Navajos, wants to get the Navajo Nation government to impose a new tax on junk food.
Last week, members of Community Advocacy met for three days at the Howard Johnson Hotel for training and to talk about the reasons why so many Navajos are harming their lives by eating food that is not good for a healthy life.
"People are eating a lot of unhealthy food, a lot of empty calories," said Frank Lester, one of 60 community advocates working to educate people in the chapters on how to improve the quality of their life by simply changing their diet.
Community Advocacy was started in March as a way for organizations like the Indian Health Service and the Navajo Nation's Division of Health to get up close and personal with tribal members who don't understand the harm they are doing to themselves and their children by eating junk food.
"When you enter a convenience store, all you see at first is row after row of foods filled with sugar and empty calories," said Lester.
Lester, like the other community advocates, is a volunteer, providing his time for a cause he says is one of the most important on the reservation. It will determine if someone lives a long and healthy life or one that results in obesity and health problems like diabetes, he said.
The group has declared war on everything from potato chips and hot dogs to candy and soda pop. Pizza is also on their hit list of foods that need to be eaten in moderation.
Members of the group point out that up to about 50 years ago, most Navajos were living a healthier life style, eating traditional foods heavy in nutrients. But in the 1960s, as more and more convenience stores opened up on the reservation, the diet of young Navajos start turning more and more toward the American way of eating.
What the group wants to do is to bring the debate over junk food to the forefront and one way they are doing this is advocating a tribal tax on soda pop and junk food.
"We want the tribe to impose a one cent tax just on junk food," Lester said.
This not only would make parents aware of how much money they are spending on junk food, but it would also raise millions of dollars a year to pay for educational programs on the dangers of diabetes, increased risk of health attacks and strokes and other health problems caused by obesity and eating junk food.
Lester admitted that an extra cent per dollar may not cause a major decrease in spending on junk food, but the money could also create programs to promote active lifestyles for youth.
"There really are very few opportunities on the reservation for youth to be more active," Lester said, adding that the money could be used to build recreation centers throughout the reservation.
Lester said that while some parents are 100 percent behind the idea, it's going to be challenge to get stores separate junk food items from non-junk food items when they ring up a sale.
And then there is the tribal government, which is already looking at trying to get the Navajo Nation Council to impose another one-cent tax to the four percent tax now being imposed.
Lester said the group plans to meet with President Ben Shelly in the near future to get his support for the junk-food tax.