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Would You Pay a 20% “Fat Tax”?

Would You Pay a 20% “Fat Tax”?

A “fat tax” of at least 20% is necessary to improve population health, says a new study in the British Medical Journal. More and more countries including Denmark and Hungary have introduced taxes on unhealthy food. Oliver Mytton and other researchers at the University of Oxford say that such taxes “have the potential” to improve health and should “ideally” be combined with subsidies for health foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Mytton and his colleagues noted that evidence especially points to the need to tax sugary drinks:

For example, a US study found a 35% tax on sugar sweetened drinks ($0.45 (0.28; 0.34) per drink) in a canteen led to a 26% decline in sales.

Meanwhile modelling studies predict a 20% tax on sugary drinks in the US would reduce obesity levels by 3.5%, and suggest that extending VAT (at 17.5%) to unhealthy foods in the UK could cut up to 2700 heart disease deaths a year.

Opinion polls from the US also put support for tax on sugary drinks at between 37% and 72%, particularly when the health benefits of the tax are emphasized. For example, a US study found a 35% tax on sugar sweetened drinks ($0.45 (0.28; 0.34) per drink) in a canteen led to a 26% decline in sales.

How to introduce and enforce such taxes remains to be seen, as does what to do with any funds collected. Some activists say that the taxes should be used to fund research about “treat[ing] diet related diseases, subsidiz[ing] healthy foods, or … stimulat[ing] industry reformulation of food (such as removal of salt, sugar, or saturated fats from foods).”

Not surprisingly, the food industry is against such taxes, calling them “ineffective” and “unfair” and contending that they will lead to job losses.

It is the case that sales of soda are declining. According to the New York Times, in 2011, the average American drank slightly under two sodas a day, a 16% decline since 1998. But, companies like Coke and Pepsi actually saw their revenue from soft drinks increase to a record high of $75.2 billion last year, by raising prices.

The beverage industry is not, that is, taking lightly efforts by health advocates and a general public seeking to do the right thing to be healthy. As Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, notes in the New York Times:

Beverage companies are putting more and more emphasis on selling fortified beverages, as if fortified means healthier when in fact it often means more salt added to sugar.

Indeed: While I’ve noted fewer students drinking soda, I’ve definitely noted a significant increase in the consumption of energy drinks, and not only at final exam time.

Drinking water is just never easy to convince anyone to do, apparently, hence the need for something like a “fat tax.” Would having one in the US change your eating habits and/or that of your family? Could such a tax indeed be passed in the US, home of, yes Coke and Pepsi?

Related Care2 Coverage

Hungary Introduces National Tax On Fatty Foods

New Soda Tax In France: Answer to Obesity and Debt Crisis?

A Fat Tax In Denmark Should It Happen In The U.S.?

 

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220 comments

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10:10AM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

NO FAT TAX for 45% of overweight Americans

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting and intriguing but given that food companies seem to lace a lot of foods these days with ingredients that are toxic and unhealthy maybe governments should be looking to tax these companies for all the unhealthy foods they put on the market...just a thought.

Also, a tax like this would hit the poor segments of society, they often can't afford to purchase more healthy foods and in many places sadly organic foods can be more expensive. Anyone with a good income can survive by paying the tax but people can always cut the fat off of less expensive cuts of meat if they have to. While I prefer organic not everyone can get out to purchase free range meat or organic veggies from rural areas if one does not own a car or have transportation. Non organic is just as dangerous as sugar.

People can always make things from scratch and this sort of thing but somehow I suspect this tax would hurt the poor more than anything and big agribusiness puts a lot of toxins in veggies/meats/produce that are unhealthy. Tax them instead.

12:53PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

no

6:40PM PDT on May 27, 2012

@clara H. When governments are elected by the people, they are expected to govern, make laws, regulate, protect, educate, provide services for the whole electorate. Otherwise they get thrown out at the next election. That isn't communism. What you seem to be suggesting that everyone can do whatever they like with little or no government interference. That sounds a bit like anarchy to me. And I suspect you would be the first to complain if your government did not take action to regulate, legislate and protect your interests. Yes, it's only a "fat tax" that food manufacturers/processors would pass on to the consumer rather than reduce their profits but with the increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes and its complications, obesity, hypertension and heart disease and the rising costs of medical treatments and interventions, just who is going to pick up the tab?
Of course, it's your right to treat your body anyway you see fit. Just don't expect governments to bail you out when you mistreat it. That's at the individual level. Think about a whole lot of people with your determination to do what you want with yourself and yours. Use your vote at the next election.
PS. It seems a lack of regulation in the banking sector was the primary reason for the banking collapse in the US. There is already a health crisis in the US and despite Obama's best efforts health care does not seem to be affordable or available for all. Sometimes, government intervention is necessary for the greater good

7:53PM PDT on May 25, 2012

@Charli S... What you choose to put in your body is agreeably your own right. When you have aggravated your body to the point where you require medical treatments or hospitalization, I do hope that you will also be ready to pay all due costs and not expect tax payers to foot the bill or government incentives to cover your hospital/meds bill. Of coarse you won't let a peep out of your mouth or complain if anyone dare say "I told you so" if you are the cause of your own health issues.

11:01PM PDT on May 24, 2012

For goodness sake people! Get real. Don't you realise that taxes already go to food producers. They are called farm subsidies both in the US and the Eurozone

And the big junk food companies like Kelloggs, Coca Cola Amatil, Nestles et al get great tax breaks for their shareholders because they are international

5:35PM PDT on May 24, 2012

do you really think the manufacturers will let there be a tax on their products???

1:42PM PDT on May 24, 2012

IF it was only used on health care or Obama care Yep I would and I drink soda every day eat fating junk food a lot and smoke.

3:42AM PDT on May 24, 2012

The people who habitually drink or eat the 'wrong' food items would continue to do so, just like smokers continue to smoke. The only people hurt would be those who infrequently buy this type of thing. The only people who would benefit would be those who are getting the collected monies.

1:23AM PDT on May 24, 2012

By all means go for it. And use the money to subsidise fruit and vegetables. With poverty as a motivator, given the choice between expensive fruit and veg - which are helpful to your system, or basic carb junk like cheap bread/pastries/pizza/biscuits - which satiate hunger but do nothing to strengthen your system, the you'll go for the junk. BUT - even the playing field and make junk expensive, while making healthy food cheap enough so that even the poor can afford it, and I think the population will naturally start gravitating towards healthier eating. Credit people with the intelligence they possess - if 'good' and 'bad' come out the same price, then new chices will get made...unless you're a determined junk addict, in which case no financial incentive will help.

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