Fat Food Tax to Pay For Health Care? A Modest Proposal – Pros and Cons

Obesity, which contributes to several health problems like cancer, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure has become epidemic and affects nearly half the U.S population. The number of obese people has doubled since 1985, which has led to a 30% increase in health premiums. The overall financial costs of obesity are greater than those for alcoholism or smoking. The annual cost of treating health problems related to obesity is estimated at upward of $100 billion. Reduction of health costs over time will not happen if obesity is ignored.

Why more taxes?
Two reasons; First and most obvious is to raise part of the money for what is being proposed as universal health care, a subject that carries with it a separate debate. The second and probably most import reason is to raise awareness of what we are eating and how it affects our bodies. The American public is woefully ignorant about nutrition.

What to Tax
There have been dozens of “sinful-food” tax proposals from a penny a can for sodas to 10% on all fast food items. It probably needs to be more inclusive than that. Packaged foods with a lot of sugar and starch probably contribute as much to the problem as the entire fast food industry. It could well be a sliding scale on all foods except fresh produce based on grams of fats and sugar per 100 grams or per serving.

What is the Tax Rate?
The Department of Agriculture has suggested that, for “sinful-food” taxes to change the way people eat, they may need to equal at least 10% to 30% of the cost of the food. It is estimated that a 10% federal tax on fattening foods would raise $530 billion over 10 years. There should also be a program of tax subsidies to encourage the purchase of healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetable. This of course would reduce the gross income somewhat.

Opposition Response
Most of us are opposed to more taxes, myself included, but there are other oppositions to a tax of this kind. Here are some of the most common.

  • I,m not fat and I don’t want to pay for someone who is and I like my sodas and Dorritos. You can still eat whatever you like. Paying $1.10 for a 99 cent bag of Dorritos may well be the cheapest way for you to pay for this problem. It is inevitable because of the magnitude of this social problem that it won’t cost you in some way.
  • The government must stop trying to legislate our behavior and picking our pockets. Sorry friend…too late. In a society this complex and generally prosperous, everything we do in some small way affects everyone else. “No man is an island.” The only way for the government not to do something is to completely drop the idea of universal health care. How good is your imagination on that happening?
  • It’s a regressive tax that unfairly affects the poor. This appears to be true on the face of it. Low income people eat high starch and fast foods in an attempt to stretch their food dollar. As mentioned earlier there should be a tax subsidy for choosing healthy foods. More of the public health dollar needs to go to nutrition education and awareness. With the right information and a little assistance, low income people can have healthy diets.

One of the glitches in pursuing a national health care problem is the political avoidance of personal accountability and responsibility. We have been lulled into reliance on government, a condition which is hard to reverse, and the government seems to cherish it’s role. Individual responsibility is the ultimate solution; until then everyone pays in one way or another.

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