Should There Be a "Fat Tax" on Junk Food?

By Paul Michael on 15 October 2009 (Updated 22 February 2010) 123 comments

Yes.

Well, that's just my humble opinion, but I really don't see why this has so many people throwing their arms up in the air with shock. We tax liquor and cigarettes, neither of which are essentials in life. Why not tax something that is bad for our health, preventing more people from buying it and generating much-needed cash in the process?

Taxes on beer, spirits and cigarettes vary from state to state (there's a detailed list here) but one thing's for sure...when you grab a shot of your favorite tipple, you're giving money to Uncle Sam. Like most things in life, liquor should be taken in moderation. It's a treat. And as such, we can stomach a little extra money being handed over for our shot of bourbon or pint of ale. (Cigarettes, well, they're a whole different animal and if it weren't for the enormous amount of money they generate they would have been banned years ago. Such is the power of the mighty dollar.)

Similarly, fast food is (or should be) a rare treat, too. Probably more rare than a glass of wine or cold bottle of Bud. If you recall Super Size Me, nutritionists interviewed by Morgan Spurlock said you should only eat junk food once a month, if at all. That doesn't stop most Americans gorging on fast food like rats in a New York dumpster.

Just look at a few statistics. In the U.S., 64.5 percent of adults are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese.

Over half of the population eats fast food once a week with 20 percent eating fast food at least every other day. And high frequency users are more likely to increase fast food consumption because of economic pressure and are attracted to "value" dining options. (See these and more distasteful facts here).

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

It's right there in black and white. The "value" menus are making junk food way too attractive of an option. But what if, as of 2010, every Big Mac, Whopper and "Triple-Bacon Heart Attack Burger" sold in the USA had a $2 fat tax? The money generated would be enormous. We're talking billions and billions of dollars. Even with the decreased consumption due to increased cost, most people would still choose to eat junk food. Maybe not as much, but there are times when the smell of grilled cheese and ground chuck are just irresistible. Now put that fat tax on other junk foods and see the money pile up even more quickly.

People will always want that forbidden treat, and they'll happily pay for it. I don't see anyone complaining about the high price of Belgian chocolate or hand-made English Toffee. It's not necessary for survival. It only exists to give people pleasure. And as such, like so many other pleasures in life that are bad for us, we're willing to pay more for them. I know I'd fork over $8 for my junk food of choice, a Chipotle burrito. Right now it's less than $6, but what's $2 more for that one pound of delicious spicy goodness (or badness)?

Let the government tax our fatty treats, and let them use that money to pay off some of the debt, or create new jobs, or rebuild the crumbling bridges and infrastructure.

Here's another idea. What if we use the money generated by fast food purchases to subsidize the prices of healthy food, like fruits, vegetables and fresh fish? Right now, fast food is generally cheaper than a healthy meal, and much easier to come by. There are fast food restaurants everywhere, but the healthy, cheap and easily accessible options are much more scarce. By channeling the money from junk food to good food, we are not preventing anyone from eating a burger...we're just making it way more easy to buy a similarly-priced healthy alternative.

I say the time is right for a fat tax. I know many of you will disagree with me, and that's just one more thing that makes this country great. We can eat our fatty junk foods, we can slurp our sugary sodas, and we can have a good old debate about it all. Now, what's for dessert?

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Guest's picture
Guest

Instead of raising yet another freaking tax why don't the Fed's cut the subsidies for corn syrup (and all the farm subsidies)?

Cut taxes on imported sugar. Instead of pulling more money out of the consumer (and having the gov’t take its ‘cut’ due to handling expense/bureaucracy), then giving a fraction of it back in subsidy form; why not just cut taxes.
Cut spending too.

Guest's picture
Emily

As left-leaning as I am in many ways, I 100% agree on cutting corn subsidies instead of adding "fat" taxes!

As a society, our idea of what is "junk food" is constantly changing. Within the past 20 years we have gone from demonizing saturated fat, to all fat, then all carbs, to high fructose corn syrup and only hydrogenated oils, and then saturated fats are fine as long as they aren't the "fake" fats, then all "fake" stuff is bad and we should all grow gardens.

Is a Snackwell's cookie healthy? Is a homemade burger and fries junk food? Who gets to decide and, in turn, tax us based on their food-industry-funded study of the day?

Guest's picture
Richard

I'll second "Guest"'s comment. Get rid of the subsidies on crops such as corn. They are why companies can produce highly-processed, preservative-laced, saturation-advertised, fat-and-sugar-laden, devoid-of-any-real-nutritional-value foods cheaper than food that was simply harvested and sent to the store.

In short, don't add a fat TAX, remove the fat TAX CREDITS called subsidies.

Guest's picture
Guest

Word!

Guest's picture
Guest

Nope, don't think a fat tax will change anything. What about the 4 month old baby who was denied insurance (think that was overturned, though) for being "obsese". That is pure insanity!

Even if people have to pay more for health insurance, how many will stop eating their fast food meals? Many dieters gain the pounds and smokers have a hard time giving up their cigarettes, too. There is a poll about this here: poll on unhealthy foods being taxed

Guest's picture
Guest

Agreed.

The government subsidies

Guest's picture
Guest

Taxes on beer and wine don't make people consume less nor wood a "fat" tax. Plus, I don't want to pay more taxes i'm over taxed now.

Guest's picture
Insuralife

You are so right... this isn't a tax to curb this kind of food, this is just an easy way to gain revenue! Just like the cop hiding behind a speed limit sign on a curved road!!

This stroy writer is full of more C&#P than a christmas turkey!!
If the govt wanted to curb fast food as the way to obesity, then they would force people to be weighed before a purchase, just like the warning on a pack of cigs!!
More govt... more money missing from your pocket!

Guest's picture
usul356

Yup, you were right I disagree with you almost totally on the fat tax. I thank you for sharing your opinion though. I don't think it's right for the government to tax cigarettes and liquor extra in the first place even though I don't buy either. The biggest problem I have with this type of tax is who decides what is "junk" food and what isn't? It just opens up too many possibilities for lobbyists and government to make a mess of it. It would be entirely possible for lawmakers to say beef in general is junk food because the pork industry lobbied for it. I doubt it would really get that far but, who knows.

Guest's picture
dhanson

Who decides what constitutes junk food? Who decides what is healthy? It's easy to say that some half pound bacon double cheeseburger is unhealthy, but what about a grilled chicken sandwich from the same fast food restaurant? This kind of legislation is a very slippery slope and I'm not comfortable with where it could lead.

Guest's picture
Briana Sanford

Sometimes it's not about eating junk food, but it's about what you can afford. Many students need cheap fast food in order to get by although it's not necessarily the healthiest choice. It would not be fair to start taxing such things.

Guest's picture
Mathias

Fast food is not cheap. Fast food is convenient, but that's all it is. Students should learn to cook twice a week and put pre-portioned meals in the fridge.

Guest's picture
Rachel

As a student, I'm a little offended by the people assuming we flock to fast food because of the value, rather than the fact that we're too lazy to cook for ourselves.

If I were to rely on fast food for all of my meals (we'll be generous and say I'm only spending 3$/meal), I'd be paying 9 dollars a day, or 63$ a week. Because it's actually cheaper to eat healthy and make my own meals, I'm only spending about 30 - 40 dollars a week living alone. And I treat fast food as a special occassion for the end of a really long month.

If you introduced a healthy-living tax on fast food restaurants, people with limited budgets might think twice about spending all of that extra money.

And people are right that it would be difficult to decide what constitutes healthy or fast food, but maybe the initial proceeds from the obvious choices could go into research regarding what should and shouldn't be included.

Guest's picture
Guest

It's interesting to see a different point of view on this, but I completely agree with the other 3 comments - how ridiculous is it to assume the government knows what's good or bad for me? Essentially, we're on a slippery slope to losing our ability to make our own choices.

The more the government stays out of my personal life the better. Besides, the so-called "experts" continue to debate what is good or bad for you (like they should be making the decisions in the first place). One week "wine is horrible for you!", the next week "it has amazing benefits!".

I can't wait for them to decide that everything over 1000 calories is going to cost you $3 more. Just enough to buy 995 calorie meal. Better yet, perhaps we should have mandated exercise.

Personal decisions are to be kept that - personal. Including food and beverages.

Guest's picture
Ron

Sure, I eat more junk food than I need to, but I'm also on the road 5 days per week. Do I HAVE to stop at a sit down restaurant every time I want to eat? You gonna hit me with a tax on my coffee because I bought it at McDonald's? How about the grilled chicken sandwich on a whole wheat bun from Chick-fil-A served with a side of fruit? What if my doctor puts me on a low carb diet (he did last year)? The definition of "nutritious" may be different in a few years -- remember how the "food pyramid" changed? Do we have to alter the legislation once that change is made?

I tire of everyone thinking the government will solve society's problems. Besides, do you honestly think the money will be spent properly? If you do, I have a bridge to nowhere I'd like to sell you.

Guest's picture

I'm sad to say, until today, I looked at the wisebread blog as a sign of intelligence. Today, it is a symbol of ignorance. Paul, I'm completely disappointed that you would write such a thoughtless, emotional (vs rational) piece that completely disregards common sense and instead points to a Machiavellian ends justifying means.

Your appeal to emotion breaks down into the warm fuzzies you feel since "we tax other things already" and "if we tax junk food, we'll pay for things we want".

So, let me ask, who gets to decide what is and is not junk food? For starters, we as a nation have too many competing interests in this game to make those decisions effectively. Are you completely unaware of the recent "healthy choices" initiative that would've marked garbage like Fruit Loops as a "healthy choice"? Do you get to decide, Paul? Do you get to decide for me too? Or does someone else get to decide for you?

This article should be offensive to anyone with a shred of human decency and common sense. A half-hearted appeal to emotion to institute a regressive tax that will hit those people most in need of healthy food is just plain ridiculous. Or do you honestly think that some rich fat cats will pay these taxes that will subsidize healthy food? If you could break from your sense of self-satisfaction for a second and consider that your idea essentially says "Let's make food more expensive for poor people" perhaps I'd consider you intelligent.

Guest's picture
Chris

Instead of a food tax why not get rid the farm subsidies that make "junk" food possible and cheap. Quit subsidizing corn that they make high fructose corn syrup out of and that is in everything we eat in the USA. There is no reason we need to be subsidizing the likes of ADM and Cargill. It would also transfer the tax away from direct income taxes we pay to subsidize agribusiness and make it an "opt in" tax on less healthy fake foods.

Guest's picture
Jon

I agree with Chris. Taxes to discourage behavior are not the direction to go. I say subsidize healthy food and stop subsidizing unhealthy food. That would make healthy food cheaper and unhealthy more expensive, thus accomplishing essentially what you set out to with a sin tax.

Guest's picture
Guest

I think that while that a fat tax might be a good idea, real, nutritious, GOOD FOR YOU food needs to be readily available and affordable to everyone, not just the richest.

Where I live a family on assistance, or even "working poor" can quite easily afford a meal at a fast food restaurant... these same people might not qualify for assistance through the food bank to get fresh fruit and veggies, meats, eggs, or milk. There is also a problem in the placement of these restaurants -- in poorer neighborhoods in my city citizens without access to a car can walk to a variety of fast food places, but grocery stores (not just convienience stores like 7-11) are NOT in these neighborhoods, making the cost to get fresh foods more expensive than just what the store charges.

Having access to stores which have reasonable prices for good food, subsidizing the cost of food WITH fat tax (if instated), and making the choice not to eat or get to work, to eat or pay rent, to eat or to clothe your children, or to eat or have adequate heat would likely go a LONG way towards changing eating habits.

Guest's picture
Michelle

Thank you for your comment. While I appreciate the alternatives offered by others in the comments and I am actually in favor of tax increases in general, I feel like only your answer truly addresses the question posed, "Should we have a 'fat tax'?"

Fast food is overall, cheaper. I mean, I know we could really analyze cost/meal when you cook at home and disagree with that, but in general, unhealthy foods are cheaper because of what they're composed of. People on limited budgets find what is affordable and available. You are certainly right, in many poorer urban areas, fast food franchises exist but there might not even be a local grocery store. This is particularly a problem if you are poor and don't have a means of transportation, and/or walking in your neighborhood could be dangerous.

Statistics show that most people who smoke are poor, which perhaps has something to do with life stresses resulting from being poor. While ideally placing taxes on cigarettes would make it too expensive for the poor to purchase them and thus discourage them from doing so, this is not what happens. The poor probably don't have insurance or a surplus income to get Chantix (or other stop-smoking medications) or therapy to curb their habit. So what the tax does is just widen the economic gap - the poor get poorer. While unhealthy foods might not have 'addictive' substances in them per se, ways of life are addictive in that it is hard to change and change all the factors that contribute to that way of life. So let's not make the poor poorer.

Guest's picture
Vecgon

No judgement on what is junk food and what isn't. Just do it based on carbon use during production. Meat and dairy will probably end up being highly taxed. Eggs and oils less so. Just a guess.

Guest's picture
Kelli

I think it's a great idea. It totally makes sense, and I love the way it's presented here - tax on luxuries, not necessities. Fast food/junk food shouldn't be the staple that it is in our country.

Guest's picture
Colin

Not exercising is equally bad for you too so how about mandating exercise? Nationalization of gyms with a registry you check in and out of when you exercise. Embedded heart monitors to make sure you are actually doing it and police at gyms to enforce exercise.

Mandatory annual physicals. Body % taken and tax levied based on your "fat score". Brackets and all.

You're welcome to not exercise and eat McD's but you won't have any income after all the taxes.

Land of the free, indeed!

Guest's picture
jkat

sounds ok to me....

Guest's picture
Deborah

Contrary to popular belief, not all people who buy chips, soda, and other junk foods are fat.

When my boyfriend and I had no work, the first thing we'd pick up from the store were chips and mac and cheese because it was all we could afford. If they take away the ability for people in that position to eat they're going to have a lot of hungry and angry people.

Not to mention this is just another stupid idea to try to get the government more money. Seriously, how is taxing food going to stop obesity? It isn't. Obesity is now being linked to genetics which is why people who are obese don't lose weight with diet and exercise.

Also, what about people who struggle with depression? The first thing I grab when I'm depressed is a tub of ice cream and some chips. Guess what? I am not fat. I'm 5' 8" and 115 lbs.

And besides, food has gotten expensive enough as it is, at least where I live.

Guest's picture
Brent

Its really easier, take away the agricultural subsidies. If they have trouble competing against foreign sources still introduce a *gasp* tariff. Might not go over well with the free trade people, but it would simply protect our national interests(home grown food). After that take away the subsidies for transportation fuel with the same method helping people to eat locally and hopefully at home. We have been combating low foreign prices the wrong way the whole time. We gave our companies money to make it cheaper instead of raising the costs of others to sell it. It might be controversial, but we screwed up our economy forcing it to be competitive with markets that have cheap labor, low restrictions and little respect for the environment. We should protect against that, not compete against it. These symptoms like too much sugar in food, gas guzzlers, polluting power plants, foreclosures, will sort themselves out once we stop encouraging it.

Guest's picture
Scott

Yikes. You put a lot of misplaced trust in the government to decide what foods should be taxed and how to use that money. Why should fast-food eaters shoulder an additional burden to (supposedly) pay down the deficit, or pay for anything else for that matter? Because they buy something that isn't healthy for them? They say people watch too much television, so let's slap a tax on DirecTV. People are too fat, so let's put a tax on XXXL shirts and plus-size dresses. As pointed out, who will determine what is "bad" food? Will 99-cent french fries at McDonald's get a big tax? Will pommes frites that go with your ribeye at the upscale steakhouse get a pass?

Why should people who indulge occasionally or even frequently be taxed? Because you say it's bad for them? Buying expensive jewelry or a Lexus might be an occasional indulgence for someone. Should they be taxed because you or the government says they'd be better off with faux pearls and a Honda?

Even if there were some magical way to appropriately decide who gets taxed and who doesn't, the federal government has shown, now more than ever, that they are by far the least fiscally responsible entity in the nation. They have spent their way almost into oblivion. Giving them more of our money is like giving an alcoholic a pint of Jack and the keys to the car.

Instead of dreaming up a million ways to shear (or butcher) the American sheep, maybe the government should stop wasting our money and find a way to save some of what they do get from us. Isn't that the first step in debt recovery? Stop spending so much and pay down the credit cards?

It is hypocrisy at its height for the completely dishonest and irresponsible federal government (or any state and local government as far as I'm concerned) to think they have the moral standing to make Americans live responsibly. How dare they attempt to lecture us on moderation? To fit the topic, that's like a 1000-pound slob scolding me for eating a Big Mac.

Guest's picture
Joe

Yes, clearly the government does not have enough money to spend because they are so in debt. And clearly the people have too much money because look at how they blow it on junk food. So I am for more taxes. I would also vote for vegetarian ticket to force people not to eat meat.

Only thing is, I only don't see anything in the Constitution that says the State is to practice social engineering and be everybody's mother.

Freedom is Healthier than Fascism.

Guest's picture
Biedronka

Just, because You are a vegetarian, it doesn't mean that people will stop eating meat. I eat meat, and I think that vegetarians, by looking that they are eating animals, shouldn't tell us what to do, and that it's wrong. Eating meat is not a bad thing to do, it actually is very healthy, and helps people not to have anemia. A lot of vegetarians have anemia or they barely have iron in their blood, which may cause a serious sickness. I rather eat meat to stay healthy and be strong, and full of energy, instead of weak and unhealthy. That is our human nature, to eat animals for meat, and the nutrients we need to live.

Guest's picture
Lisa

I see someone else pointed out my first thoughts...that many working poor, students or elderly don't have the money or options to eat the produce centered, organic, locavore, grass fed beef that health bloggers are advocating.

As a middle class family in the suburbs, we rarely eat fast food. I can possibly support a tax on my purchase. But to endorse a fast food tax on everyone by saying "fast food is a luxury" is elitist. There's a reason why poverty is one of the greatest indicators of obesity. Making fast food equivalent to a "sin tax" is misleading. You don't have to drink or smoke to live, but you do have to eat.

Instead, we need to focus on making fresh produce and healthier food cheaper and widely available to everyone.

Guest's picture
Nick

Man, some of you really don't trust the government to do anything right. Misplaced distrust in government aside, I disagree as well, but not for the "no more taxes" reasons.

Good, healthy food is expensive enough as it is, I don't think making the bad stuff pricier would be beneficial at all. Instead, how about nixing the corn subsidies that lead to massive amounts of High Fructose Corn Syrup that's been pumped in to all of our food, and give the subsidies to natural & organic farms so that they can raise healthy produce and animals that aren't full of hormones and chemicals? They could give restaurants that use less processed ingredients a break as well.

Guest's picture
Honey

I think fat taxes are a great idea, but think that the same thing could be accomplished with what others say - reductions in agricultural subsidies and taxes on greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of meat and dairy, and the transportation of all foods.

Though I think it's a great idea that if we're going to subsidize anything, it should be gym memberships and personal training (actually, I think that should be covered as part of your health insurance, but I doubt that'll make it into the bill...

Guest's picture

FATS are not unhealthy. OILS (cottonseed, soy, canola) are. Fats have heart and health-protective benefits oils do not. Fats contain essential nutrients that help us assimilate vitamins and minerals in our food. If you like "Super Size Me", please watch "Fathead" for the other side of the argument.

We have been lied to for years, first by medical "researchers" (I use the term loosely) with a prejudiced point they wished to further to appease their funding sources; then by the media who perpetuates the fat/oil mistake by simply not changing their wording; and now by a mega-industrialized food system that is failing and thus struggling all the harder to maintain its grip.

If you are interested in the basis for my astounding statemnts, I offer: "Eat Fat, Lose Fat" by Mary Enig, "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon and most importantly, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes.

Guest's picture
Meg

Local Nourishment,
Oils are fats, they are just liquid at room temperature. All fats are composed of a glycerin backbone with three fatty acid chains attached (kind of like an "E"). Oils tend to have more double bonds between the carbon atoms in the chain, this decreases the melting point, therefore they are liquids at room temperature, not solids. Plant fats tend to be oils and animal fats tend to be solid fats. Both kinds of fat can be healthy. Also, your body makes many of the necessary fats. It breaks down the fats you ingest, through digestion, and then reassembles the fatty acids into the configuration needed; or your body can store the fats.

I have a degree in biochemistry and pursue hobbies of gardening, cooking, and nutrition. To verify the information presented (in my statements or any of the books mentioned) I would suggest referencing basic chemistry books, general organic chemistry text for the basic construction of oils/fats, and a biochemistry book for the metabolic pathway information. The information will not be biased by an author's agenda as no conclusions are drawn in most textbooks.

Guest's picture
Treacle

While you're idea sounds good in that "pop-psychology" kind of way, it actually penalizes the people who have no other options than to eat junk food...i.e. the poor.

People living in impoverished neighborhoods do not have access to groceries, farmers markets, and other sources of fresh, nutrition-intense foods. If you don't own a car, and the nearest grocery store is a 45 minute bus ride away, and you just finished working a 12-hr. minimum wage shift...McDonald's is your only option for dinner that evening.

Putting a tax on junk food won't stop the people that have no other options from eating there. It will however, eat into the already meager income they have, and make it even harder for them to escape poverty and/or eat healthily.

Guest's picture
Guest from TN

I feel the same way. It is also frustrating that 2 qts of fruit juice is over $3 and a 3-liter of soda is $.88! We can fix a decent dinner at home for $6 or buy a "hot and ready" pizza for $5.
I think calling it a "fat tax" is not exactly what you're proposing. It's not about taxing people who are fat, it's about taxing the food. Skinny people eat value meals, too.

Guest's picture
Jessica

Here in Illinois, we just passed a tax on "junk" beverages and candy. Based on the tax law things like chocolate chips are now being taxed, but Twizzlers are not. I forget the specifics, but it's pretty apparent that this is not as easy as "all junk food gets a tax", because you can't come out and say all things at McDonald's are junk food.

And overall, I think taxation will unfairly affect the poor as posters mentioned above. I doubt taxation will really cause true change, it's just not that simple. Things like making cities walkable, putting grocery stores in neighborhoods where they don't exist-that's real change.

Guest's picture
Guest

Recently I read that the new CEO of AIG will only be paid 5.5 Mil. The money generated by this tax could go a long way to help out Wall Street and our Banks. The taxes would not have to be very much as I have just found out that the bonus money will be a record high of 240 Billion Dollars.

I am not concerned about our Insurance Executives as they will be rolling in the dough as soon as mandatory health care is passed. I expect that like in California when the mandatory auto liability tax was passed premiums will rise faster than health care.

I just love everyone who stands for higher and higher taxes. It's just so American.

Andrea Karim's picture

"This article should be offensive to anyone with a shred of human decency and common sense."

OMG, the bloody drama. A shred of human decency? Seriously? An article in favor of a tax on junk food proves that the author has no shred of human decency? You, sir, need to rethink your concept of "decency".

I don't think that the taxes are meant to actually prevent people from eatin crappy food - they're meant to help the government take care of people without health insurance who end up in the ER.

Anyone with a shred of human decency might argue in favor of health care coverage for all, but then, that's another topic (one that no one at Wise Bread will bother to post, because of the idiotic attacks from people calling the writers "communist").

Guest's picture
Brenda

I am guessing you have plenty of money to pay a fat tax and that is why you are suggesting it. Most of us who eat at those fattening, lower priced places do so because we have no choice. When we are out and need a bite to eat (and forgot to bring a PBJ sandwich), that is the only thing we can afford.

I understand your logic but I think its misguided. If I had the money, I would not frequent these places. And I think that in this tough economy, many others are in the same place as I am.

Lets give the poor a break. Or maybe you could give us a subsidy so that we don't need to eat at these places? I wouldn't mind that.

Paul Michael's picture

...that the fat tax should subsidize healthy food so that it becomes the cheaper option? Junk food should be the luxury, not salads and fruits. I want poor people to have cheaper, better food. For those that can afford the crappy food, good for them.

Guest's picture
Treacle

Yes, you did say that a fat tax should be used to subsidize healthy food, however that subsidy doesn't get at the core issues for why poor people are unable to go to buy healthily in the first place.

Unless your fat tax is...

--also building grocery stores in poor neighborhoods

--subsidizing bus tickets so poor people can take mass transit to grocery stores

--paying for community education so poor people can learn about better nutritional choices.

Then it fails. Your fat tax subsidy would penalize the people who already have the fewest options.

Guest's picture

Why are people so quick to infringe on individual liberties? The government should not tax unhealthy foods. It also should stop having increased taxes on liquor and cigarettes.

Let's tax Internet usage. You would be okay with that right? After all, people should quit surfing the Internet and go exercise. Internet addiction is problem for some in our country. In can be a debilitating problem that causes people to lose jobs and ruin marriages.

Let's tax extra marital affairs. While we are at it, let's also tax unprotected sex, foul language, and people who don't go to church. In these instances, I have the feeling that most reading this would say that the government has no business regulating these private affairs.

Individual liberty is worth defending in America.

Guest's picture

I am a huge proponent of letting people do what they want but only as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. If our country is 60% obese, that's hurting everyone, not just the fat people. Our military has less and less young people to choose from who are within weight standards for joining, fat people cost airlines more to ferry across the country, fat people use more gas in their cars, and they require more health care dollars throughout their lives. I agree that there should be a tax on fast foods. We'll see the poor in our country becoming a healthier weight because it will no longer make sense for them to buy high fat foods as they will no longer be a cheap option.

Guest's picture
Guest

Except that not everyone who enjoys "bad/fat" food is fat or obese. I enjoy junk food & fast food. I happen to exercise in addition to being blessed w/high metabolism. Why should I have to pay extra money to enjoy what I do, just because other people choose not to exercise and/or aren't blessed w/good genetics?

Guest's picture
Jim

I think implementation on such a tax would be the problem.
Where do you draw the line between the 'good' food and the 'bad' food? How do you define "fast food"? Is ground beef between bread inherently bad? I don't think so. But if McDonalds sells it then its a vice that allegedly kills people? I don't think so.
We do NEED food. And any food in moderation is not unhealthy.

Tobacco and alcohol are inherently different. You do not *need* either of them in any amount and its easy to draw the line to define what is / isn't tobacco or alcohol.

Guest's picture
Ron

It'd be much more efficient, and lucrative, for the government to impose a tax on excess weight.

Simply have the government scientifically determine what is, and what is not a healthy weight, and require an annual weigh-in at a government clinic. Those who exceed the guidelines can be assessed a penalty that increases in direct proportion to the health risks associated with a particular weight. In practice, this means that the scale will be non-linear.

Offenders who lack the income necessary to pay the penalties can either have the amount withdrawn from their public income (tax-refunds, welfare benefits), or be be sentenced to work-off the amount of the fine in various projects that the government determines have the highest social value.

Once we get single-payer going, this scheme will be much easier to implement. If the public is bearing the costs of your lifestyle choices, then clearly the public should be in a position to control them.

Case-closed.

Guest's picture
Guest

The problem with your support for a tax is that the foods you want to tax aren't bad for you, in moderation. A hamburger, a few fries are not bad for you. SuperSizeMe did a nice job of creating a false perception. Sure if you eat McDonalds every day for every meal and eat 5000 calories a day, you will get ill. Duh? Eating a McDonalds hamburger with a glass of water or non-sugared beverage and an apple is not a bad for you meal.

Guest's picture
Kent

"Let the government tax our fatty treats, and let them use that money to pay off some of the debt, or create new jobs, or rebuild the crumbling bridges and infrastructure."

Do you honestly believe the government would use a tax for its intended purpose? What comes to mind was Al Gore's famously fraudulent claim that he would put social security money in a "LOOOCK BOOOOX".

It seems there is no lack of do gooders out there, who think they can "engineer" social behavior. If we're really going to go down that road, let's make it simple - the government takes 100% of what we make, and we let them decide where we live, what clothes we wear, what car we drive, what job we have, and what we eat. Oops - they're already trying that with dear leader mao obama. And it was already tried in communist Russia - the result - 60 MILLION people put to death.
But then what do I know? I'm simply one of those greedy capitalists who actually remember there is a Constitution.

Guest's picture
NMPatricia

So many comments - and from a standpoint I would not have expected. Except that I disagree with most of the comments and agree with the posting - I do believe junk food should be taxed. Will the government do it perfectly? I doubt it as they seldom get stuff right. But I think that it is right up there with alcohol and tobacco. And I think it is a great idea to subsidize healthier foods. Is it regressive? I have read over and over on frugal blogs that it is possible to eat healthy on not a lot of money - but yes, it does take some thought.

Guest's picture

While it may make more sense to tax obesity itself it's not something that anyone is going to do because it is political suicide. It seems like you're attacking a specific group of people when you do that, like taxing Jews, or Asians or something. Even though it really isn't it is perceived that way. Therefore taxing the thing that makes people fat is the next best solution.

Guest's picture
C3

Wow. So many things to say here.

1) I can't help but shake my head at our new idea of a "free country." Once we could debate the right and wrong things to do with the conclusion that we were free to disagree with each other because "it's a free country!" Now, though, the debate is what is the right and wrong thing to FORCE OTHER PEOPLE to do. Free country?

2) Love the dichotomy of raising a tax to reduce the behavior, then praising the money raised. Remember, you get what you pay for. What would be really being paid for here? More Bureaucracy!

3) As others have said, I admire your omniscience in determining which food is healthy for everyone. Certainly people are all identical in their health needs, and of course we should all be governed as if we conform to the physical norm.

4) Naturally, more taxes on more activities will result in a more ordered society, instead of a more sneaky, subversive, manipulative society. Hasn't it worked everywhere it's been tried?

5) And of course, how about trying to REDUCE taxes to accomplish the same goal? Take government out of food production so that less processing actually costs less! Why are corn and other crops so heavily subsidized that they are processed to unrecognizability for ubiquitous use in place of better foods that are only more expensive because they aren't subsidized?

I can appreciate that you want to impact the health of those around you in a positive way, but holding a gun to people's heads is generally a bad way to do it. Remember, attitude is the most important part of health, and my attitude isn't improved by your strong-arm approach. Would yours be?

Guest's picture
Ron

I can't help but agree with your conclusions. I think that the current political dynamics would make any scheme that overtly penalized or stigmatized the obese impracticable - if for no other reason than that they constitute a numerical majority that it would be difficult to control through democratic processes. I think that things might be different once a single-payer system is established, and the fiscal burden that their "freedoms" are imposing on the public treasury become both explicit and impossible to bear.

In the meantime, I think that at a minimum, the majority of Americans would accept measures that impose stiffer penalties - including criminal penalties - on those who profit at the public's expense by exploiting habits that the majority of people are neither responsible for, nor control. Putting obesity profiteers behind bars wouldn't end obesity all by itself, but it'd eliminate one more obstacle that stands between us and a healthier public.

Guest's picture
Shakela87

The problem with the "fat" tax is that nutrition science changes all the time and also depends greatly on the individual. Ok slap a tax on fast food joints. Those business owners are hurt and those who travel frequently end up paying more in taxes. Now, do they start taxing the items in the grocery store that you can use to make fast food? Does ground beef suddenly become 8 or 9 a pound? Is that really fair to those who need to eat meat? (Iron deficient or whatever). What about candy? It's not good for you, but diabetics often carry some in case of a severe blood sugar drop. When this doesn't solve the obesity epidemic (there will always be people with thyroid problems or other issues) do they start putting a limit on how much healthy food you can buy without being taxed? Way too slippery a slope for me. It's pretty established that smoking gives you cancer and endangers others around you (second hand smoke), and so does alcohol (drunk driving, people who become violent when intoxicated, etc.) but "fat" food is too vague for me.

Guest's picture
Ron

C3:

Spare me the tired list of neo-con talking points and dated tropes about the perils of "big government."

The "freedom" to be exploited by profiteers and corporate interests is what brought us the current global economic crisis. Now it's manifesting in an obesity crisis that threatens to overwhelm the treasury and lead us even further down the path to fiscal ruin.

This uncritical reverence for "essential liberties," "personal responsibility," "choice", etc has gone on for long enough, and it's long past time to put the experts in charge instead of letting the corporate foxes guard the public henhouse.

Guest's picture
Joe

"This uncritical reverence for "essential liberties," "personal responsibility," "choice", etc has gone on for long enough, and it's long past time to put the experts in charge instead of letting the corporate foxes guard the public henhouse."

It's been tried already. Putting "experts" in the government in charge of everything. Check out the histories of Red China, the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany.

And I do have uncritical reference for "essential liberties," "personal responsibility," and "choice." If I didn't I would have the slave mentality which you seem to admire.

Guest's picture

Hmm.

Go ahead. Try it.

Can you tax the raw materials, knowing what they'll be used to make?

Don't think so.

Don't believe me?

I make my own alcohol - I got tired of paying taxes on the stuff.

If I smoked, I'd grow my own tobacco too (it's legal in my country - Canada - to do that).

Put a tax on fried food, well, I just won't buy fast food anymore. In fact, I rarely do.

When I make it at home, I can fry it in *animal fat* because it tastes better :)

Guest's picture
Ms. Ferret

So who gets to determine the "junk" status of a food -- should it apply to foods that are high-fat, like hamburgers, french fries, olives, avocados and salmon? Or things that are high in refined carbohydrates, like white bread, rice, and pasta? Froot Loops? Oatmeal? Bacon? Chocolate? Sardines? Big Macs?

Even if something like this were going to fly politically, no product could be taxed without first receiving its own personal healthfulness rating. Which means it's only a matter of time before we have a (taxpayer-funded) "Junk Food Czar". Which means massive (taxpayer-funded) studies to determine what attributes legally define a product as "junk food". The studies will be about as conclusive as the ones we already have -- fat is bad for you (except when it's good for you), and that (though the findings weren't really clear) a person can probably eat eggs without dying, but only on Thursdays (maybe).

Ron: What experts are we putting in charge? The same "experts" who shilled cigarettes to our grandparents? And seriously, is Big Food just going to stand idly by while their products get the "crap" stamp, or *gasp* try to influence this legislation to benefit their own interes-uh, I mean, you know, the children?

Guest's picture
Ron

F.D.A.

Works for drugs. It'll work for food.

Simple.

Guest's picture
Ms. Ferret

Ron - drugs != food. It's possible to say that someone who consumes a certain amount of chemical X will die of a chemical X overdose. It's harder to say that someone who consumes enough bacon will die of a bacon overdose. Sure, eating too much bacon is likely to make you fatter, but so is eating a lot of any other food -- in less food-saturated times, that was kind of the whole point of food in general. If that's how we're going to regulate things, prepare to be taxed to the gills on everything except celery.

And really, what's with this uncritical belief in the infallibility of government agencies? I can't wait for the first "oops, this isn't actually bad for you" study to come out -- people will be lining up around the block to collect their "bacon tax" refunds.

Guest's picture

I tend to be a believer in you get what you deserve. That being said if you are an avid junk food eater you are likely to suffer ill effects from the additives and the lack of any nutritional value.
I am also a big believer in people should have options, so if you want to eat junk food you should be allowed. you should be aware of the dangers that it can cause and the fact that they are empty calories.
another point i wanted to bring up is the fact that much of junk food costs a lot less than healthier options. While for the average person they will attempt to bridge that gap by using coupons and other discounts so they can eat higher quality meals, what about those that cant afford it? For anyone who has every given 5 bucks to help someone buy there lunch, you know in major cities that 5 dollars will not go all that far unless you decide to spend that money on what is considered "junk food" but by adding in a tax you are effectivly making it hard for them to get any sort of nourishment.
While it may not be everyones first choice of food, maybe cheap unhealthy food is a nessesity.

Guest's picture
Joe

"Putting obesity profiteers behind bars wouldn't end obesity all by itself, but it'd eliminate one more obstacle that stands between us and a healthier public."

Sheesh. You want to put "obesity profiteers" in jail? Would they be put into the same cells as the smokers?

"What are you in for?"

"Murder. What are you in for?"

"Sold some Ice Cream."

Guest's picture
Ron

I hate to break it to you Joe, but that "personal freedom" horse left the barn decades ago, and can now be found in an Elmer's bottle where it belongs.

We *already* put people in jail for selling things that harm other people, whether the people that use them understand or consent to the risks. Don't believe me? Take a look at the drug laws, amigo.

We've got roughly 500,000 thousand people in jail for victimizing their fellow citizens by selling them things that they "want." Are the social costs of obesity any *less* than drug use? We've got those laws in place to protect people from themselves, righ?

We lock up drug dealers for a good reason. Once we get single payer in place, we'll be able to put fat-dealers in the same cell - right where they belong.

The sooner that this neo-con shell game of corporate hegemony masquerading as "freedom" is put to its well deserved rest, the faster we can get the progressive agenda in place and start putting people over profits.

Guest's picture
andys2i

Aren't there enough taxes? The thing is that people need some way to give them a quick and cheap (and legal) high, which is where fast food comes in. Peoples inelasticity to donuts, for example, will be shown by the fact that even if taxes are raised the amount of fast food consumption would eventually return to the pre-tax levels as people absord higher prices. The best thing to do is teach people to cook healthy meals . Otherwise we just have a nation of even poorer fat folks

Guest's picture
Rosa

Why not just a VAT on all restaurant and prepared foods, with no attempt at figuring out which ones make you fat?

I mean, I'm not anti consumption taxes, in general, as part of a mix of progressive and regressive taxes (though I am STILL bitter that my work cafeteria - only accessible to employees, well inside our security - had to pay extra sales taxes because we were in an "entertainment district" to pay for a sports stadium. Make the team owners pay!).

But the "fat tax" rhetoric is abnoxious and divisive, and having to figure out a mixed order of taxed and untaxed items is a pain in the butt - big retailers have to reprogram their POS computers, small retailers have to just remember what is what and make sure their counter staff can, too.

And of course, like all sales taxes, it's regressive. The feds and the states should sack up and admit they need more money and take the political flack for raising income taxes in a progressive way, instead of borrowing more or picking out groups they think they can safely pick on.

Guest's picture
Kevin

They don't need a fat tax. My wife and I stoppe dinto Wendy's the other night - a classic single combo and a chicken strips combo (not upsized) cost more than it would have cost me in ingredients to prepare a steak dinner at home.

That, of course, is standard groceries, nothing organic or fancy.

Guest's picture
Joe

Dear Ron,

No, "personal freedom" pretty much never goes out of fashion. In fact, this country was founded on the principles of "personal freedom" and limited government. Your philosophy has more in common with that of the Taliban. Like the Taliban, you want to force people to do what your think is best at the point of a gun. And naturally, you are one of the one's who knows what's best for everyone else.

You are the type of Liberal that is a control freak. Now you want to control what people eat, for chrissakes. There are people all over the world right this second eating twinkies and ice cream. I bet that just burns you up.

Gee, if you want to jail someone for selling an ice cream cone, what about Big Alcohol? Gee, I think maybe alcohol has actually harmed some people in this country, maybe even more than twinkies. Do you want to bring back Prohibition? Oh no, that's not one of the Democratic talking points, since Liberals like to get drunk, too. They just want to be healthier alcoholics in a smoke-free bar.

And yes, there is a huge difference between an overweight person and someone strung out on crack.

Sheesh, it's scary to know that there are people like in this country, who talk with such contempt for personal freedom.

Guest's picture
Ron

Joe:

I sympathize with your sentimental attachment to the archaic notions of personal freedom that you persist in believing define the nature and scope of government involvement here in the US, but it's time to face the facts.

The facts, in this case, are that the principle arresting and incarcerating sane people in order to protect them from themselves is already in force, and has been for decades now. We've already got the War on Drugs, and now it's time for the War on Fat.

Anyone who believes that the state can't and shouldn't criminalize things that sane adults choose to do to themselves, or that consenting adults do to one another is living in a Friedmanite fantasy land. Nice idea for a conservative theme park, but that's about it.

Once you get drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc legalized come back and talk to me about how it's "Un-American" for the government to meddle with what people eat.

We've got a public health crisis in this country that conservative folklore about what the government can and can't do is only making worse, and it's time for the grown-ups (e.g., Progressives) to run the show now.

Elections have consequences, one of which is that the invisible hand that's been shoveling junk-food down American's throats is going to get cut-off, and not a moment too soon.

Guest's picture
NickV

Let me get this straight.

Tax #1: The US government taxes you once, and gives the money to corn farmers to subsidize the corn to make all the corn syrup and corn ships and corn feed for the beef and all of the other corn ingredients hidden in the processed crap you eat CHEAPER THAN HEALTHY FOOD.

Your proposed Tax #2: Now, you want to put another tax on the stuff you subsidized with the first tax money to make it expensive again.

As other writers point out, wouldn't killing the corn (and sugar) subsidies do EXACTLY THE SAME THING, but with 0 taxes this time?

Guest's picture
Ron

BTW - Joe - if the government could mandate that all alcohol be produced from local, organic crops owned and operated by government supervised, democratic worker collectives on a non-profit bases, and distributed by means of a tightly regulated rationing system, I'd have no problem with the legal alcohol.

Given its current status as a mechanism for conservative business interests to use as a weapon to further entrench their position at the top of the corporate plutocracy by preying on their countrymen's "choices," I'm all for outlawing it.

Once the public secures a monopoly over the distribution and sale of alcohol, it's regulated by the FDA, and the proceeds can be used to promote social harmony and economic justice I'll happily change my mind.

Guest's picture
Toby

This is a great idea. It would help those fat chicks get unfat. Come on, who wants to see a fat chick, seriously. The money saved can be spent on plastic surgery or nice clothes. I hope this tax passes.

Guest's picture
Mark

If it helps people make better choices I'm all for it. Healthy food should be cheaper than junk food.

And I agree with comment #62, fatties are very hard on the eyes.

Guest's picture
odograph

I'm kind of shocked that an in-n-out board (or similar) would be used for "junk food."

That's all good food, for your health it just depends what else you've had that day, and how hard you've world.

Walk 5 miles to an in-n-out and you probably can enjoy a burger and fries before you walk home. If you drive your fat ass up in an SUV, you might have a different problem.

So, the problem junk food tax is that it often isn't the food. It's the choices surrounding the food.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I hesitate to even join in this discussion, as I really have absolutely no time to come back and be involved in the argument. That said, I'm jumping in anyway.

Paul, first of all, I do wish some had been far less harsh in their disagreement with you. Not sure why folks find it so hard to be civil when disagreeing. That being said, I do disagree with your position, respectfully.

1. There's the poverty / location of stores to buy healthier foods argument several have listed above. And really, this applies to more than just the poor as well. While it's much easier now than it used to be to get healthier food on business trips, it's still difficult in many situations. There just isn't always a hot healthy choice late at night when you're stuck with an unavoidable delay. People who might want to eat healthier don't always have access to the stores and restaurants they need. Subway sandwiches are getting easier to find, but they are still not as prevelant as fast food chains.

2. I don't think the answer is to raise tax money to have yet another subsidy on the healthier foods. A start would be to eliminate some of the ones already in place that others have suggested above. However, based on my understanding of the situation, that would only close the gap between (for lack of a better term) junk food and healthier food.

3. As I understand the situation (and I admit to not being an expert and needing to do more research), a large part of the gap in cost between organic products and others (yes, this is an added layer, because the basic discussion above was more general, but stick with me for a bit) has to do with the cost of transitioning the land if it previously has been under heavy pesticide use, and other transition costs. I did watch a documentary a while back, and will try to find it again and review it for Wise Bread. Based on the cost of transition, I think more of a multi-step process might be in order. First, switch the subsidies completely as I think Nick and possibly others have suggested above. Switch them to more appropriate agricultural practices and products. (Yes, somebody will have to decide.) This will help cover the costs of the transition. Eventually, we won't even need that subsidy, as the cost to the farmers will be balanced out. There are of course some produce items that are more intensive than others, so there might continue to be  some sort of price gap, but it would be manageable. Or hey, when we get back on our feet we might even decide that's a subsidy we can afford, as it will cost much less than the original.

Either way, I don't think we need more money on this issue, we need to just rechannel the money we are spending.Even a reduced amount going to the organic farmers and having the high fructose corn syrup money dry up would be a huge help. As I mentioned in my article on how Cuba transitioned (and Paul, I got my tush chewed in that one too, so I feel you) I'd really love someone with subsidy expertise to comment. Based on my understanding of how the system works, that's really where the answer lies.

That's as clear as my pre-coffee brain can be this morning. Would love to hear some additional subsidy information.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Trek Hound.

Guest's picture
odograph

For some reason "worked" came across as "world."

And I left out some whole words in the sentence:

"So, the problem with a junk food tax is that it often isn't the food. It's the choices surrounding the food."

FWIW, evidence is that stone age men ate 2900 calories a day, compared to our ~2000. They just burned 600 or 800 off in daily athletic necessity.

Guest's picture
Spedie

Wow, I had a lot to say about this subject before I read all the comments. Everyone beat me to it!

I got just one thing to say, and that is the pseudo definition of an "expert".

An "X" is an unknown quantity.
A "spert" is a drip under pressure.

Put the two together!

I have seen, in my lifetime, this type of "thing" be taunted as healthy, and in a few years, this same type of "thing" be taunted as unhealthy. Diet soda's are a perfect example.

No more taxes on anything. Period. Government does not belong in every facet of our lives, they are already too much in my daily life....

I am on a personal mission to change that, by the way. It's a passion of mine.

Guest's picture
daedrya

While I usually agree with your logic, not on this. Food is a necessity, like air and water and we don't tax those (yet).Liquor and tobacco are not! Maybe people make bad choices when it comes to food but we live in a consumer/capitalistic society where we give people what they want.And we supersize it to boot.So taxing and controlling what people eat is a slippery slope. What you think is junk food, may not be to someone else. What about cake and brownie mixes, candy, soda,chips...the list goes on. Taxing booze and cigarettes really hasn't kept people from those habits so I think taxing "junk" food would just be another unnecessary financial pressure. I don't eat junk food by the way.

Guest's picture
BEth

i just read a post on another site by a woman who ate so poorly she gained weight to 300 pounds and THEN received disability checks becasue she was too heavy to go to work. So WE are all paying for her living expenses because of her life choices. So WE should recoup some of that money by taxing choices that cost the taxpayers money.

Guest's picture

Obese does not necessarily mean unhealthy any more than thin means healthy. Time to lay off the fat folks and start focusing on something more important.

Like tolerance. Whatever happened to that? Hm?

Guest's picture
Guest

Because if it comes down to being measured by the guvment, you can guarantee they'll use Body Mass Index, which hasn't been updated since its creation. In the '50s.

So because I wouldn't be 115 lbs (which for my body type would make me anorexic, or dead) I'm to be taxed for being "fat"?

No, thank you.

You want to help the nation lose weight, figure out how to get more markets closer to the less fortunate neighborhoods, and help support education programs that could spread knowledge of good foods.

Stop thinking that taxes will solve everything.

Guest's picture
Guest

high quality grocery stores won't go near the less fortunate neighborhood becuase the people cant afford its products, BUT, taxing food from the mcd's, wendy's and popeyes and using that money locally to provide an incentive to open a Harris Teeter might work. And where should the govt get the money to educate people on better food choices, well how about a tax on mcd's, wendy's and popeyes and using that money locally? hmmmmm.....

Guest's picture

The government's involvement in our food is more at the root of our problems than a lack of taxes. The USDA works for the beef and hog industry, not for the health of our children.

A more constructive approach is found here:

http://www.edibleschoolyard.org/video

and here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ann_cooper_talks_school_lunches.html

Guest's picture
Jonathan

If you asked me to, I could certainly come up with compelling arguments for a "sin tax," whether tobacco, alcohol, sugar, or fat. Still, I have a pragmatic problem with the idea. If the sin tax works and said negative behavior diminishes, so does the tax revenue. By that time, the gov't will have gotten used to the money and will need to find another revenue stream. If the sin tax doesn't work, then the stated reason for adding the tax is a failure and it shouldn't be continued. So, unfortunately, I'm not on board.

It also seems crazy to subsidize corn farming, which props up HF corn syrup production, which would then be taxed through soda purchases. Vicious cycle.

Financial Samurai's picture

We have a rager debate over at FS. Gooooo Flat TAX! :)

Keigu,

Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture
Guest

Who decides what the "bad" foods are? Why not tax all meat then we can all be vegetarians. Why not tax all flour products..why not tax salt or sugar? Potatoes taxed because they are not as healthy as sweet potatoes. Apples taxed because they are not as healthy as strawberries. Green beans taxed because they are not as healthy as broccoli. Nothing is cut and dry. For sake of argument..if there were hefty taxes on "bad" foods enough for people to cut way back..there is no guarantee that they will then miraculously become thin and healthy.

Guest's picture
Skinny guy

If you straight tax fattening cheap food, you're going to overwhelmingly hurt poor people because that food is all they can afford anyway. Before making vast statements about your opinion of rather important subjects, you should probably think for more than five minutes. The ONLY way it would work is to subsidize healthy food so that is less than or equal to the current non-taxed junk (you did mention this, but I'm not sure you thought about the issues on that either). As some mentioned above, the real problem is that it is way too easy and cheap to manufacture this junk and too hard to compete on price if you're producing something using unsubsidized inputs (i.e. not HFCS).

Guest's picture
Andrew

Agree with Skinny guy - the poor would be hurt by such a tax in fact the poor pay more for for basic products and services than other segments of the population. In a sense they are already taxed by not having ready access to healthy food choices where they live. In study done in Baltimore in 2007 called "overpriced and underserved" (sorry I don't have a link for it) this issue was confirmed and one of the reasons we started our company.

Guest's picture
teqjack

Should There Be a "Fat Tax" on Junk Food?

Food is already taxed, at least excepting [some places] final consumer. Add a tax on "fast," "junk," or "unhealthy" food, and you have to define it.

Is a cheese sandwich (sort of "ploughman's lunch") fast food? Yes. Except you might have carried it to work rather than ordering it in a shop, which makes it even faster but it is not then "fast" food. Is it "junk" food? A lot of people will certainly argue you should have some protein, vegetable, and/or fruit with it and it is junk otherwise (OK, add pickle/relish as veggie?). Is it "unhealthy" food? You'll get a lot of people saying it is, since it is animal-derived. Not to mention "manufactured" rather than "natural" - cows and goats (or yaks, horses, whatever) do not give cheese, humans have to make it. And then there are the PETA and ALF extremists...

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm offended that people would defend "the way things are" today. We know that overconsumption of sugars and fats is PROVEN to make people sick, the cost of which healthy people subsidize 100% through our insurance premiums and income taxes. Overconsumption of any other really bad crap is dangerous (e.g., drugs) and therefore illegal, so why are companies allowed to put out crap that is killing people? Just because they always have? Because you don't die within 5 minutes of eating it? Because it won't make you crash your car?

Twiddling about the impossibility of figuring out the perfect way of "how we do it" or "who decides" is less important than taking obvious steps to stop this idiocy. Yes to all of the above: stop subsidies, stop protectionism, cap carbon output. The marketers won't lose their jobs, they'll just work for companies that don't kill our poor people.

Guest's picture
Ms. Ferret

'Twiddling about the impossibility of figuring out the perfect way of "how we do it" or "who decides" is less important than taking obvious steps to stop this idiocy.'

Actually, the "how" is pretty important when you're trying to pass laws that affect everybody in the country. I agree that the Standard American Diet doesn't work well with our modern sedentary lifestyle, but a plan to "ban bad foods" without any kind of feasible implementation isn't really a plan. It's a wish. The intention will be to curb the sugar and fat consumption of Americans. The reality will be Big Food lobbying to get THEIR products on the "safe" list and talking about the dangers of "untested organic food" from smaller companies.

Why are we assuming that federal regulation won't act in the best interests of big business? It's not like it hasn't happened before.

Guest's picture
Kay

I have been a Democrat all my life, and it's been a long one. I consider myself as liberal as they come. But what I'm seeing lately is not, in my opinion, true liberalism. To me, being liberal means "Live and let live". It means not trying to control every aspect of other people's lives. It means I'll do my thing and you do yours, as long as neither of us is bringing harm to the other.

It means if I want to smoke, I should be able to. At the same time, I know that my smoking affects others so I agree that we shouldn't do it inside public buildings or in someones home that doesn't smoke inside themselves. Outdoors is a different matter. Then it becomes none of your business. If I'm already standing outside smoking and you don't like smoke, don't stand beside me.

It means if I want to drink, I should be able to, as long as I don't potentially bring harm to others. I shouldn't be able to drive a car, etc.

It means if I want to eat junk food and empty calories, I should be able to as long as I'm not bringing harm to others. Now, the ones who are for taxing "unhealthy" food, please tell me how I am harming you. If your answer is that I will be a burden on health insurance that you are not, maybe you need to be truthful with yourselves about some of your bad choices.

Do you drink alcohol, other or more than the recommended 1-2 glasses of red wine a day? If you do, then you could be a burden on the health care system.

Do you talk on your cell phone while you drive? If so, then you could cause an accident and be a burden on the health care system.

Do you get the recommended amount of sleep each night so that you're alert and able to function safely, and to help your immune system work at it's best? If not, then you could be a burden on the health care system.

Do you engage in a dangerous hobby, such as skydiving, bungee jumping, skiing, football, racing, etc.? If so, you could be a burden on the health care system.

I don't have much money and I struggle daily to make it until the next payday. After the outrageous tobacco tax President Obama sprung on us without warning or telling us he was going to do that to get the money for the extra health insurance for children before he was elected, I've had to cut way back on smoking and am now buying the cheapest cigarettes I can find, after smoking the same brand for the past 20 years. I know it's bad for me, but I'm the one with the habit and it's no one's business but mine. Yet, I'm being made to feel like a criminal for doing something people have done for years without any grief from others. Where did the "we'll just tax the wealthy their fair share" go? Taxing tobacco even more just hits the poor and middle class in their pocketbooks. The rich can still easily afford their tobacco. And now you want to tax me for eating what I can afford, or want??

Maybe I don't care for eating broccoli and rabbit food all the time. Maybe you have no business in my business, as I don't in yours.

This is why I have changed my mind about health care reform, especially the public option. I was all for it until I realized the middle class, poor, and targeted groups of people are going to foot the bill. Now I hope it doesn't go through.

I don't belong anywhere now. Republicans want to control other countries, and Democrats want to control the people in their own country. Both are wrong. Both parties are control freaks. Please leave other people alone and mind your own business. Stay out of my life and stop trying to control everything I do. Don't you have enough to worry about in your own lives without being in mine?

Guest's picture
Guest

I was definitely surprised by the emotion expressed throughout these comments. Several people brought up some excellent arguments, but a few people fell back on some rather worn and simply incorrect claims. But hey, I'm just happy that most people are applying some sort of cost-benefit analysis to this policy discussion.

First, I'm glad that so many people mentioned taking a harder look at government subsidies. That is rightfully and rationally the first step. Second, many wise people pointed out that defining "junk food" would be incredibly difficult and not nearly as easy as the article suggests. Would it be so difficult, however, that it's best not to try? I dunno- that's a topic for additional debate. Several comments rightfully pointed out that the DC lobby-machine would dive head-first into that discussion, with the rational intent of influencing the outcome. Why? Because the livelihoods of people-- not just rich "fat cats", but the jobs and wages of all types of people in entire industries -- would be on the line. (I'm continually surprised how many people think that only evil "big business" has lobbyists - when you get a chance, go check out which organizations have the largest K Street lobbyists... you'll be surprised.)

Finally, several people pointed out the fallacy in the "government-needs-money-so-we-should-have-another-tax" argument... this asserts the unsubstantiated claim that the government's current spending is all worthy of funding. Yes, the government "needs" money, but perhaps we should consider how effectively and efficiently we are using each dollar of spending? And rather than presupposing that the current budget deficit necessitates additional taxes, why not realistically evaluate current spending?

As for myths, there are two in particular that appear more than once and are widely believed to be true. These are more than just false; they have been accepted by large numbers of people without critical analysis, and have thereby altered conclusions about a long list of social issues. If you don't believe the next two points, I recommend you go out and do a little research yourself.

First, fast food is NOT cheaper than many, much healthier alternatives. A holistic cost-benefit analysis demonstrates that a "fast food" meal is much more expensive than shopping wisely and then preparing your own meal. (Yeah, that means a person needs to do a little thinking, know some basic math, and plan ahead. And that also includes healthcare costs in the future, labor costs, opportunity costs, ... the list goes on.) In short, "fast food" is only cheaper if you do a rather narrow, simplistic evaluation of costs and benefits. Consider more variables, and the conclusion changes.

The second myth (and this one is particularly misleading) is that the poor do not have access to anything but junk food. Some people are spitting rage at their computer monitors after reading that. How dare I call it a myth? Well, it is. EVERYONE in the United States has access to groceries which are healthier than fast food outlets. That doesn't mean they have "perfect" access, nor that they have access to the absolutely healthiest food. But the threshold here is whether they have access to grocery options that are, for comparable costs and given wise personal choices, simply healthier than fast food. Sure, maybe its not a wide-range of farm-fresh "organic" options of eight types of onions and six types of milk, but the basic staples and ingredients for a healthy meal ARE available. (Before the criticism starts flying, I'm not getting this only from Ivory Tower academic studies; I have lived and worked in some of the worst neighborhoods in the United States, and I have visited every state and a majority of the poorest communities.) This argument - that the poor do no have access to anything but junk food - is demonstratively false. If you don't believe that, go walk through a few neighborhoods- options are there, period. No one is arguing, however, that fast food isn't EASIER to come by... that's probably true. In summary, the myth that the poor do not have access to healthier and more economical groceries (relative to fast food meals) is misleading and unfortunately widespread.

Of course, neither of those myths change the fact that people must be educated to make good decisions. And it doesn't change the fact that people make choices that are bad for them. But, as mentioned numerous times, that doesn't mean that the government should be our nanny. Then again, if we must pay for other people's healthcare in the future, and obesity is associated with 1 out of every 5 dollars in US healthcare, then perhaps we need to find new ways to "encourage" good health? In other words, a good cost-benefit analysis of a "fat tax" depends heavily on the healthcare debate.

And yes, if you hadn't guessed already, I'm an economist.

Guest's picture
BD

Wow, an extra tax on what you consider "junk food". Way to reduce people's freedom, discriminate and oppress the poor even more, all in one fell swoop!

Every now and then, I like to go out to eat. I can't afford the healthy things I'd LOVE to have (sushi!), so I make do with what I CAN afford: a burger from McDonald's or Burger King every now and then.

I'm thin and have a healthy BMI, BTW (exercise tends to do that). I don't need the government trying to nanny-law me over the head.

Oh, and Kay (comment #81), you don't sound like a liberal at all. You sound like a LIBERTARIAN. Maybe it's time to consider jumping parties? :)

Guest's picture
JD

First off, these "fat" foods are usually the cheapest. Case in point- the dollar menu. If they are going to charge taxes on fatty foods, why not start a foi gras tax? That is the fatty liver of a duck, but since it is consumed primarily by the rich, I doubt we will ever see this happen. Quality food and vegetables cost money. I am not defending poor nutrition choices, but lets be real about who are the real consumers and who is really being punished/taxed here. When a McDouble costs a dollar and a sub alone costs five and you can barely pay for the gas to get to work where your not making much to start with, what choice will you make for something fast? Last time I checked the two most obese states were also the poorest and most medicated. Yes, in a perfect world this would stear them away from their poor choices, but this just smacks of rich America putting an economic squeeze on middle America to "do as we do". what would really make a difference is better school lunchs- I know first hand these are usually comprised of pizza and fries (but wait, the government says thats okay since they provide it) and Sodas being sold in schools (but that generates money for government institutions). I would also say better education on nutrition in schools would be a step in the right direction as well as making sure kids get running around time. It is insane that alot of schools no longer have recess with the burgeoning obesity and diabetes crisis. Lets leave the passive revenue driven changes behind and actually be proactive about national health.

Guest's picture
Guest

For the record, I think that another trillion dollars/year in the Federal government's coffers is another wasted trillion dollars. I also think that my personal choices should remain personal.

However, I am amazed that there is such strong resistance against a fatty food tax and there is almost no controversy regarding the tax on nicotine. It seems a hypocritical to support and depend on the tobacco tax revenue, but fiercely resist a tax on a vise that you personally enjoy.

There should be as much resistance to the tobacco tax as there is to a fatty food tax. BTW, the hurdles about what constitutes fatty foods are easily overcome. The fatty food tax would be simple to implement in an objectively measurable way. A calorie per gram or fat per gram threshold would be easy to include on existing nutrition labels and taxes could be based on "fatty zones" :-)

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Satsukir

I might be in the minority here but I completely agree. There are nutritionists out there who could go through the fast food menus and make an informed decision at to what is and is not healthy enough to eat on a daily basis. I mean, if we can't eat it without adverse side effects I'd say it's easy to call it unhealthy. The tax money wouldn't just be sucked down the drain, it could be spent on other programs. Hopefully this would include a revision of our school lunch menus as well. Healthy eating would obviously benefit the nation as a whole. I see nothing negative enough to outweigh the potential benefits here.

Also, college students can buy milk, bread, peanut butter, flour, and other basic cooking supplies. Junk food IS NOT the only option. As a single mother enrolled in college I do understand stretching money. Perhaps we should be teaching wise consumer habits in our high schools instead of expecting everyone to learn at it home. When you do the math it's not hard to see that the dollar menu costs more than some other alternatives.

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Ron

"Then again, if we must pay for other people's healthcare in the future, and obesity is associated with 1 out of every 5 dollars in US healthcare, then perhaps we need to find new ways to "encourage" good health?"

Easy. It's called charging fat-asses more for their health insurance. Comes as close as anything we're likely to see between eliminating the connection between unhealthy private behaviors and public costs.

Guest's picture
cwaltz

We already are charged more for prepared food(as you use as an example in the photo). I pay 11 cents for every dollar when I go to a fast food restaurant or any restaurant for that matter even if I go to order a side salad. Ironically enough, I daresay the Kraft Mac and Cheese or the Ramen I can purchase at the grocery store are much healthier and they are only taxed at 2.5 cents per dollar.

Who gets to be the purveyor of what qualifies as junk and what is healthy? If I purchase that box of mac and cheese which has tons of sodium and a pack of hot dogs with plenty of unhealthy fat is that really a healthier choice then a side salad and a grilled snack wrap from Wendy's?

Guest's picture
Guest

Do we really need any more taxes?

No.

I realize what you wrote was intended to drive traffic on this article for your own reasons. If YOU would like to pay additionally for what you consider to be junk food, go right ahead.

I will go one step further and say let's take back the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. The taxes on these items are completely arbitrary. It's clear that no citizen that is not a politician voted to pay additional taxes for these items. If taxes on these items were ever put to popular vote, I assure you those taxes would be repealed.

You already pay sales tax on those items. Why pay another tax above and beyond that?

Please stop trying to use taxes as a punitive measure for what you personally believe is a luxury item or for something you percieve is bad for you. How you use these items is YOUR choice. We don't need or want government oversight in terms of the items above.

Let's say this together...

NO INCREASE OR NEW TAXES.

Paul Michael's picture

although who doesn't want traffic? No, I wrote this because it was something that caused healthy debate in my own life, and I wanted to open up the discussion. Considering how many people have commented, I'd say it was obviously something that many people feel strongly about, myself included.