Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taxing Fat People

There is a growing push in this country to excise taxes against 'bad' foods as means to quell the so-called 'obesity epidemic'. Supporters like to point to the drop in tobacco use after the application of heavy taxes as proof that taxing unhealthy foods could help bring our spiraling health care costs under control. While this is all fine and dandy in theory, the reality is that this is an overly simplistic view of an extremely complex problem.

Why do we consume unhealthy foods such as partially hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, and refined sugar, even in the face of overwhelming data indicating how we are slowly killing ourselves? There are a couple of reasons. First, our access to abundant food resources (re:high fat) have only recently come about; so recent that we have not been able to adapt our pre-programmed needs to consume what we can while it's in front of us. While those needs can be curtailed by flexing some will power, not everyone has that level of self control. Second, unhealthy foods are by and large cheaper than their healthy counterparts. This is the point that most proponents of additional taxes on food seem to overlook. Someone living in Harlem on food stamps will probably have a tough time justifying organically grown chicken when they can get a double cheeseburger at McDonald's for a dollar. And lastly, there is the issue of taste. Sugar make things taste better. So does fat. And so does salt. Most people will make that argument all day long, no matter how much you try to dissuade them.

This whole argument really only comes down to one thing: money. People who are able to stay in good health do not want to pay for those who for whatever reason cannot. Taxing unhealthy food (and using that money to subsidize health care) could help shift the financial burden of treating obesity related diseases to those who are more likely to develop them over time. However, those people more than likely are not in a position to lead a healthier lifestyle in the first place. And just to play devil's advocate for a moment: what happens if someone who is perfectly healthy develops coronary heart disease? Or Type-II diabetes? The bottom line is that each individual is different. Adding a tax to the cheeseburger someone grabs in a hurry is not going to solve our national health care issues; rather, it will only place a bandaid on a system that is fundamentally flawed.

1 comment:

My Year Without said...

I think you have an interesting take on this issue. However, our tendency is to call out what we believe is a bad idea, but offer no suggestions/solutions to the problem.

One reason I appreciate the topic of taxing junk food is because through various discussions, other ideas inevitably surface.

My thought is if we must impose taxes, lets tax the bad stuff that causes humans problems: pollution, junk food, cigs, etc. At the very least, these taxes could help send the message that such-and-such is harmful.....

Thanks for posting about this topic!