Should the U.S. Government Propose a Federal ‘Fat Tax’ on Junk Food?

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Over the past two decades the obesity epidemic has dramatically increased across the United States.  According to the CDC, approximately one-third (33.8%) of American adults, and 17% of children aged 2-19 are obese.  The highest rates occur among those with the highest poverty rates and lowest levels of education.  Research has shown that obesity is a risk factor in many chronic conditions that lead to significant morbidity and mortality.  Many state legislatures have adopted some form of tax on either junk food or soda, albeit with limited impact.  The U.S. government is now considering proposing a federal ‘fat tax’ that would increase the price of high-fat, energy-dense foods and beverages.  While this proposed tax might help to reduce a small fraction of the country’s staggering debt, it would also target some of America’s most vulnerable populations. Indeed, the foods that would likely be taxed under this ‘fat tax’ are largely consumed by people who have limited access to other options; in other words, the impact of a federal ‘fat tax’ would fall most directly – and unjustly – on the most impoverished and underserved people in the country.  In addition to doing little to halt the obesity epidemic, this policy also has the potential to promote malnutrition in the poorest sectors of American society.  Rather than impose a ‘fat tax’ on America’s poor, we would like to see legislators create a public health policy that holistically addresses the obesity epidemic through the subsidization of wholesome foods and other practical incentives that will encourage Americans to lead sustainably healthier lives.

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11 Responses to “Should the U.S. Government Propose a Federal ‘Fat Tax’ on Junk Food?”

  1. tias11 Says:

    The idea of imposing a ‘fat tax’ is quite appalling. I can understand the intent behind the effort, but as your post suggests, this will directly impact those falling within a lower socioeconomic class. A more effective approach would be to create greater access to healthier foods and to equip individuals with the knowledge necessary to lead a healthier life. In order to fully address obesity within our society, a multi-dimensional approach will be necessary.

  2. amtorrie Says:

    The idea of imposing a ‘fat tax’ is ridiculous. Many individuals who are eating the higher fat foods lack knowledge in healthy eating or they may not have access to healthier foods. To address the lack of knowledge, information education communication materials should be employed to educate the general population about healthy foods and healthy eating. This could range in a puppet show for kids about fruits and vegetables, to radio, television, or printed material in magazines or newspapers about healthy food choices for adults. In school, kids should be taught about healthy eating with possible programs that involve the parents. Also, in school, healthy meal options should be available, not the typical high fat, high calorie foods that are offered now. If children learn to make healthy food choices, this may lead to the children educating their parents about healthy food choices. The fat tax will not have a high impact in deterring people from eating unhealthy foods; it will only help minimally to reduce the United States debt crisis.

  3. marinming Says:

    I believe that a ‘fat tax’ has merit, but only if it is used not as a punishment for low-income people without nutritional knowledge, but as a balancing tool to supplement the price of healthier food. Most people are perfectly aware that high fat high calorie high sodium food is bad for them, however both their will power and their wallets have to be very strong to withstand the onslaught of cheap poor-quality food. I don’t see any justification for spending “junk food taxes” on anything other than directly subsidizing the prices of healthy foods. When parents can satisfy a ravenous kid with a healthy veggie snack and a bottle of low fat milk for half the price of the potato chips, we will see a much healthier nation. Rather than be a ‘punishment for low income people’ it will be these people who are the fastest to benefit from the balancing act. It is obviously quite critical that the direct subsidization of healthy food (both production and availability) is the only acceptable way to spend all the tax proceeds.

  4. mbc46 Says:

    I’m inclined to agree with marinming. People will respond to a fat tax by shifting to other food. So it will be important to make available healthy affordable options. I had heard at some point during MPH studies that farmers of fresh fruit and vegetables were not in favor of subsidies to their produce because they felt this would drive down the cost of their goods and leave them with even lower profit margins. I don’t know if this is true, but have often thought that a policy of subsidizing healthy foods would need to address that fact that it not only costs more to eat healthy food, it also costs more to grow healthy food.

  5. faminerelief Says:

    I am inclined to believe that the notion of Fat tax will affect the vulnerable people without addressing the real issue of the problem. Lack of education of healthier choices, lack of affordable access to healthier options, lack of physical activity and stress are all reasons cited. By Looking across the Atlantic, we see that Americans (33.1%) are twice as likely to be obese over Europeans (17.1%) and subsequently less likely to develop the list of the chronic medical illness associated with obesity. They do not have a fat tax and yet are thinner, more healthy and they spend less on Health care. Many studies have pointed out reasons of physical activity, walking , less dependance on cars. More vacations and they eat less. Living in both locations, the stark difference not mentioned above, I have found is portion control, the ridiculous amount of food you are served in chain resturants and fast food places, for example a regular order of fries in Five guys gives you get an order that should be shared by 3 people not one. Also the trends for Americans to eat outside the home is high and has increased dramatically.
    Instead of imposing a fat tax, impose a portion control tax! Resturants-should serve food in smaller quantities and the myth that you can take it back and heat the left overs does not wash. The food industry has programmed us to eat in larger quantities and it has becomes a norm. If a tax should be imposed it should be imposed in the Food industry as well as regulating their portion size not on the consumer. Ofcourse, recently mandatory calorie counting in fast food has been introduced nationwide and while I think it will help, I think that serving smaller amounts will also help program us to eat less.
    http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/02/business/fi-healthspend2
    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232364.php

  6. mjberley Says:

    It has actually been found that the majority of individuals understand basic nutrition, aka McDonalds is bad, and vegetables are good. In addition it has been shown that individuals rarely choose foods based how healthy they think they are, they choose based on taste and cost. So education is not the limiting factor, it is access to these healthier foods. Like any public health issue, eating healthy has to become the easier choice which is where the fat tax comes in to play. Using this tax to encourage stores to provide fresh fruits and vegetables and subsidize local farmers in order to obtain reasonably priced foods is a great catalyst for change.

  7. ctyhuang Says:

    How about imposing the Fat Tax on companies that are the ones making and distributing the food, instead of on the consumers? If that were the case, I would gladly support this policy. As it stands, the tax is a great example of blaming the victim.

    I agree with the suggestion that there should be federal subsidization of wholesome groceries instead of monies that are given to corn, soy, and wheat farmers. If there was incentive for farms growing fruits and vegetables, this would drive cost down for the consumer, possibly increasing sales and incorporation of these foods into his/her diet. There must be a change in the US food landscape to stem the tide of obesity and this change should be aimed at the institution, organization, and policy levels of the ecological model.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0CEFD8133EF931A35750C0A9679D8B63&ref=farmbillus

  8. dattaph Says:

    Food insecurity, that is the lack of available nutritious food, plays an important part in the obesity epidemic. In many parts of the country there are food deserts, where grocery stores that carry fruits and vegetables are just too far away from people and so instead people eat what nearby convenience stores carry – fringe foods high in salt, fat and sugar. In addition, the majority of the people in these areas have a limited amount of money so they don’t have the money to pay for nutritious fruits and vegetables that have limited caloric value when compared to cheap high-calorie dense foods at the convenience store.
    A Fat Tax on consumers does not address this problem, unless it is spent on the subsidization of healthy food as marinming suggests. A Fat Tax should be on the companies making and distributing the food, as suggested above by ctyhuang. Instead, there should be policies that focus on the availability and affordability of nutritious foods. For example, there are farm-to-school programs nationwide that promote getting healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables into school cafeterias. These programs have been shown to not only benefit children, but also stimulate farmers and promote rural economies. In addition, there are other school programs with the similar goal of not only educating children about nutritious eating, but making those nutritious foods available, such as The National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, The Child and Adult Care Food Program. Many factors are at play in the obesity epidemic such as economics, environment, genetics, personal choice, advertising, but access to nutritious foods must also be considered.

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