Should there be a fat tax on junk food?

Since fast food and junk food are partly responsible for a spike in obesity, and the health problems associated with obesity are putting a strain on the health care system, should there be a tax on those foods that goes back into health care?

I’m going to say yes.

It is known that eating fast food is harmful, so why should people who take care of themselves suffer from a lower quality health care system because of people who don’t?

Let’s say that I knowingly engage in another harmful activity such as sticking a knife in my hand, and it has to be removed at the hospital. I then go home and stick a knife in my other hand, which again has to be treated at the hospital. Then I do it a third time, and so on.

Now it’s a safe bet that by repeatedly making them remove the knife from my hand, I am wasting the hospital’s time and resources. So why when people clog their arteries with fast food, which also wastes the system’s time and resources, is it not seen the same way?

Well, I suppose it’s roughly comparable to putting a “health tax” on alcohol or cigarettes, which like junk food don’t really hurt you if consumed in moderation, but which can have serious health consequences if used to excess.

However, I’m not exactly sure how we’d go about delineating the boundaries of “junk food” versus “healthy food” for taxation purposes.

You can become obese eating anything. There were fat people before McDonald’s and there will be fat people long after. So, what do we tax? Hamburger? How about wheat? Oh, I know, maybe cheese? Sugar? Does the tax apply equally to Equal for its alleged cancer causing?

The idea is silly. There is nothing inherently bad for you in junk food, it’s the specific quantity consumed that matters.

One other thing: you can eat super duper pure as the driven snow health food and I can stuff my fat face all day, and one day we’ll both be dead. The means don’t matter when you consider the end.

The trouble I see it that its rarely a type of food that is to blame but the overconsumption of that type of food. A cheeseburger can be a part of a totally healthy diet, why do you want to tax that?

No, we could probably make a case for certain types of prepared food items being noticeably worse for you than others. I think it wouldn’t be impossible to come up with some kind of reasonably accurate nutritional yardstick for classifying “junk food”. But it would have to involve a lot of elaborate conditions concerning the percentage of the food item’s total calories derived from fat or refined sugar, the method of its preparation, its “ready-to-eat-ness” (e.g., french fries would count as junk food, butter or lard wouldn’t), and so on and so forth.

As I said, I don’t see how we could practially and consistently apply such a definition across the board for taxation purposes.

Same goes for smoking cigarettes, though. By that logic, there’s no need to tax or regulate anything that’s bad for us, since one day we’ll all be dead anyway.

Except that smoking is addictive. Far more people have the occasional cheeseburger than have the occasional cigarette. Also, you eating cheeseburgers won’t make me fat.

Also, IIRC there have been studies indicating that a low cholesterol diet is linked to an increase in aggressive or suicidal behavior, and that it’s pretty much a wash in terms of lifespan; dead by heart failure, or dead by violence. I do know that I personally get bad tempered and/or depressed if I don’t eat meat often enough.

I don’t think it would be too difficult to conjure up a tax on the “unhealthiness” in foods, maybe according to some sort of empty calorie ratio. A classic American food that consists of nothing but globs of fat sprinkled with pure sugar could be taxed higher than, say, vegetables, which contain very little energy compared to their other nutritional content.

The problem, of course, is that you are then taxing food, something that we all need to continue crawling around on this planet. Worst yet, the cheaper foods are the fattier foods, so you’ve just instituted a regressive tax whose onerous burden will fall most heavily on those least able to afford it.

The costs of obesity are high, but in my opinion an attempted quick fix like this isn’t likely to be a very good answer.

I agree. Stuff like smoking should be self-regulating, and the revenooers shouldn’t be allowed to gouge people with exorbitant sin taxes. I find it a never ending source of fascination that while smoking is on the way out because of all the harm it does the legalization of drugs is on the way up in today’s conventional wisdom. Am I the only one that sees that people want to trade one addiction for another one (rhetorical question)?

Um…sure…can we also tax repeatedly stabbing yourself in the hand with a knife? :confused:

How about a tax break on whole foods instead? Grains, nuts, beans, fresh produce, dairy, meat, etc.

It’s hard to parse this through smoking, but drinking moderate amounts has shown in some studies to have some health benefits, but alcohol is still subject to a vice tax in most areas, so why not double bacon cheeseburgers too? Certainly we should be able to agree that double bacon cheeseburgers are a vice, if you accept the definiton of vice as the opposite of virtue. There’s no virtue in having an 800 calorie sandwich on a regular basis as that would be gluttony.

I don’t think most areas tax staples like flour, meat, beans, etc. Anyone know whether or not this is true?

Maybe we couldn’t tax all forms of junk food but there might be many we could tax. Why not go after McDonald’s for their aggressive advertising aimed at children? If Joe Camel can’t be around why do we tolerate Ronald McDonald? The same could be said for most other foods advertised to children.

Marc

My state has the highest food tax at 8.4%. This site has more information.

You could really pick a fight by making the tax conditional on BMI - the fatter the person, the higher the tax.

Ditto for media … charge a “Stoopid” Tax on lesser forms of media…

Every year, you get weighed and your BMI calculated-and if you are above the ideal, you pay a tax 9based upon pounds over ideal BMI). Thin people will die faster, so they get a rebate 9reverse tax). there, we have solved the problem! Fat people pay a tax that goes toward their health care, people with ideal BMIs get off for free!

It will be coming soon. This was on the news today in Australia.

It’s worth noting tht Australia already has in effect a tax on fast food. Here in Australia we have a GST of 10% on all goods. However basic foodstuffs are exempt. For the most part this is anything that you need to prepare somehow or eat raw. Things for which there is no concept of raw or preparing is taxed. So if you cook all your own food, then you pay a miniscule amount of tax. Eat out all the time and you will be paying close to 10% tax on your food.

The situation was originally created to not overtax the poor (since poor people have a larger proportion of their income going into food than rich people). Taxing fast food to influence behaviour was not originally a consideration. Interestingly though this is kind of how it works

Bob.

Go for it, tax junk food

  • tax halitosis
  • tax sweaty feet

The main problem with taxation is … well taxation

  • it is so much easier picking pockets than earning a living

I have a theory that all taxation and ‘charges’ should be remitted to one central body, gross not nett, so there is no direct incentive for setting up money making schemes.

Taxation is nearly as daft as prohibition, and that was (and still is) pretty spectacularly stupid.

This sounds like a strawman argument, at least from the standpoint that you have to make a number of assumptions and work back from there. Strictly speaking, a bag of potato chips or snickers bar is perfectly healthy. It follows there is no “junk food”, only poor diets. This is a perfect examply of busybodies incorrectly identifying a problem and applying the wrong solutions. Are nutty-bars now contraband, one assumes?

BMI isn’t a precise measurement. A simple measure of height and weight corresponds with obesity in populations, but there are many individuals for whom it’s inaccurate. Many athletic individuals would have a BMI putting them in the overweight range, if not even the obese range, even though they’re clearly healthy. Taxing them extra would be unfair. So would you switch to measuring body fat percentages (accurate methods of doing so are more expensive)? Testing cardiovascular fitness or other fitness (also mucho expensive to do for large numbers of people)?

And even if you’re not an atypical case where BMI doesn’t reflect obesity, the fact is there’s good evidence that the “ideal BMI” (18-25) doesn’t completely correlate with life expectancy. I’d hope that if any type of weight/health tax were implemented it would look at the best research, which actually shows that the healthiest weight for longevity is actually a very broad range, the slightly “overweight” (BMI 26 to 28) have the highest life expectancy, and that having a BMI of 18-20 (within the “healthy” range) has a lower life expectancy than being 60 to 75lbs “overweight”.

I previously posted the following information in this thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=383123 and copied these citations from there so I wouldn’t have to re-type them all.

From this Norweigan study: Waaler et al., “Height, Weight and Mortality: The Norwegian Experience, Acta Med Scanda Suppl 679, 1-5 (1984):

From: Troiano et al., “The Relationship Between Body Weight and Mortality: A Quantitative analysis of Combined Information from Existing Studies.” Int J Obesity 20, 63-75 (1996):

From: Menotti et al., “Underweight and Overweight in Relation to Mortality Among Men Aged 40-49 and 50-59 Years: The Seven Countries Study”, am J Epidemiol 151, 660-66 (2000):

Basically: