The Case for Fat Taxes

Discussion
Mar 14, 2011
Bernice Hurst

This story just keeps on
giving, focusing as it does on the dispute over whether or not high-calorie
food should be taxed. Basically, the argument focuses on how to make people
take responsibility for what they eat and whether or not hitting their wallets
would make them change their habits.

The latest indication that price influences
purchase comes from Dr. Janneke Giesen’s
research team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who found participants
"chose fewer calories when there were higher taxes on higher-calorie foods,"
according to a report in Food Navigator. Conducted with 178 American
college students on three occasions, taxes up to 50 percent were gradually
added to prices. Only half of the participants were given details of the calories.
Results revealed that participants whose choices were already based on low-calorie
items were less likely to be influenced by price.

According to Reuters, "Only
students who did not respond to the price increases were those who were already
watching their diets and were given calorie information. They ate fewer calories
than their peers without any food tax, and showed little change in their eating
when taxes were added."

Other early research indicates that calorie details
on menus and labels are not necessarily changing eating habits and that a combination
of information and taxation "may not be as effective as taxation alone." The
study suggested that "a food tax of at least 25 percent ‘makes
nearly everyone buy fewer calories.’"

Meanwhile Denmark, which
has imposed tax, is showing "signs that obesity
among younger children is actually falling for the first time in 60 years"
although adult obesity levels are still rising, according to a BBC report.
Charlotte Kira Kimby, of the Danish Heart Foundation, insists the tax means
"the state going in and balancing price because it is cheap to produce food
with a high content of sugar, fat and salt."

In Britain, taxes have apparently
been ruled out by the current health secretary who believes "Nudges are
very important. Tax is not a nudge, tax is a shove."

[Author’s commentary]  Perhaps
unsurprisingly, recommendations included additional research into the most
viable tax rates. Insufficient research supporting junk food taxes is cited
by industry groups preparing to resist action. They also assert that such taxes
will unduly burden low-income families.

Discussion Questions: Is it time to reconsider taxing high-calorie foods? Are such taxes effective in addressing the public health issues associated with eating excessive amounts of high-calorie foods?

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13 Comments on "The Case for Fat Taxes"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I’m sure that I will be in the minority but I would like to see unhealthy foods get taxed as a way to support the cost for health care to take care of those of us that do not eat healthy foods.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 2 months ago

We do have a national problem of too many people overeating high calorie foods. But there will always be people who can’t resist, or won’t resist, high calorie foods just as there are people who won’t abstain from a lot of other pleasurable things. Selective taxes might help some but a fat tax won’t cure the problem any more than a sleep tax would enhance abstinence. There must be better methodology for successfully tackling the problem of high calorie consumption. Let’s keep looking for it.

Joan Treistman
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Speakeasies for carboholics and fatty food addicts! It’s the next restaurant craze.

Then we can go after the people who don’t exercise enough. Everyone will be issued a pedometer and big brother can monitor the activity.

No time to write more. Want to finish the food in my pantry before the enforcers get here.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 2 months ago
Oh great, another set of politicians and academics deciding what everybody should eat and, as an added if not central point, creating another tax revenue stream for more, uh, research into other areas where the general population needs “help” in making life decisions. A couple of years ago, there was a very thoughtful piece in the New York Times about the effect of government farm policy and subsidies and the impact of these policies over the last 30 years. In brief, the impact of the policies and subsidies was to artificially reduce the cost of high carbohydrate, high sugar foods. This reduction was passed on and reflected in the retail costs in grocery stores and restaurants, making them the best value for lower income families. The article then tracked the change in America’s obesity and, unsurprisingly, showed a strong correlation between the growth of these subsidies and the growth of obesity, particularly among the low-income segment. Now that our fearless (or is that feckless) leaders have underwritten the growth of obesity, they want to tax… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 2 months ago

I look at it this way….

Regardless of what people choose to put in their mouths and why, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of North Americans are obese. This puts an enormous strain on the cost of health care. So, whether a tax on high calorie food changes eating habits or not, it at least funds the high cost of treating illnesses associated with obesity.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I have eaten more than 1000 BK Whoppers in my life. Little Debbie is my best friend. I bicycle intensely. I feel better than ever. I have the choice to indulge in great-tasting food. I also have the choice of whether or not to work off the calories. Leave me alone.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
10 years 2 months ago

We keep raising taxes on cigarettes and it does seem to reduce consumption. Maybe we should require people eating unhealthful food to only consume it at least 15 feet outside the entrances to buildings? Maybe we can shame more people into eating correctly?

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 2 months ago

Just what we need, another “Nanny State” tax. Why can’t we leave people alone and let them do what they want? Who’s life is it anyway? We are fat because we are rich. At the rate things are going that may not be a problem much longer!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

This sounds like one of those ideas that’s nice in theory but in practice would probably leave something to be desired; OTOH, if chubbers become the next group insurers can’t “discriminate” against (or are they already?)–however valid the basis for pricing differences may be–it will help reduce costs that the svelte amongst us are unfairly bearing.

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

The best way to get a business to stop doing bad things (like making people fat) is to punish them financially, especially when consumers are not seeing the light (think cigarettes). Business thinks with its wallet. That’s not a bad thing; Capitalism works.

Awareness works too, but in this instance, no one seems to notice that we’re twice the size we were in the 80s! Just look at an older movie–Jaws let’s say–to see where we’ve gone.

So, I’m not sure but isn’t that the very role of government? To look after its population from a higher ground when other entities, especially those financially driven, are not? If not, then who(m)???

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
10 years 2 months ago

Nowhere on this planet is there a government entity who knows more about what is right for me and my family than we do. Targeted taxation for the explicit purpose of engineering society? No thank you.

David Schulz
Guest
David Schulz
10 years 2 months ago

Prohibition! The great experiment to make a better life for everyone, with all righteous people signing on.

The result: A heyday for organized crime that has yet to lose its grip entirely.

You can’t make people do the right thing, only provide the opportunity to do so and hope they make the right choice.

Michael Baker
Guest
Michael Baker
10 years 1 month ago

A tax on junk food, like a carbon tax or a sulfur dioxide tax or a tax on anything that creates negative externalities, deserves to be looked at rather than dismissed out of hand as another over-reach by Big Brother.

You simply cannot argue “leave me alone” when bad dietary choices by some individuals have such negative impacts on others. I for one am tired of sitting in metro, airplane and bus seats next to people who don’t pay for my seat but want part of it free of charge in addition to their own.

And perhaps the money collected from such a tax can be put into health research, or as someone has already suggested, into paying the costs of those bad dietary habits.

No one is saying “Don’t stop eating KFC or McAngioplasties.” But perhaps making people pay the true cost of their actions is worth a look.

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