Fat Tax

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Oct 5, 2009 2:02 pm

I read this commentary on the potential to tax fatty foods.  I can't stand taxes as they are currently and don't know how I would feel about this.  I understand the concept to dissuade people from eating junk food just like cigarettes but all I see are the taxes going to more political nonsense and corruption in the govt.  I do know that Americans are getting fatter and fatter everyday and it is getting disgusting.  When I lived in Europe, seeing fat chics were not as common as you see here.  Anyone have thoughts?

 

SAN ANTONIO, Texas-- I recently accompanied my family to one of the top-selling movies in America, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."


All I could think of, aside from struggling ironically to keep my children from overindulging in junk food, was that members of Congress should watch the movie. It might inspire them to add an important dimension to health reform: smarter food policy.


In the movie, a town nearly dooms itself via gluttony. As hamburgers, steaks and ice cream rain down, residents feast euphorically, oblivious to their expanding waistlines -- until a child succumbs to a food coma.


The movie is a thinly veiled allegory for our nation's obesity epidemic. It serves up -- in digestible terms -- the dysfunctional relationship between government, industry and parents in engineering and promoting a glut of food that keeps dollars in our pockets and smiles on our faces in the short term, while rendering us dangerously unhealthy in the long term.


<P extended="true">Beyond the movie magic, it's a sobering reality that two-thirds of Americans are afflicted by the obesity epidemic. Our bulging waistline correlates to our ballooning health care budget, accounting for $147 billion a year in medical bills, according to a study funded by the CDC Foundation and published this summer in the health policy journal Health Affairs.
<P extended="true">Experts at Johns Hopkins call the trend "a public health crisis," projecting that by 2015, 75 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese. Shockingly, the Center for Children's Health Innovation reports that by the time kids enter kindergarten, over 26 percent are already overweight or obese.

As I surveyed the theater, those stats ceased to surprise. While my children drank water and nibbled on a negotiated ration of candy, their peers lurked beyond enormous buckets of popcorn and towering cups of soda balanced precariously on their laps.


Fast forward to my point. In improving America's health, are we missing a key plotline? Wouldn't the best way to control escalating health costs be to become healthier to begin with? Are rising costs driven not only by corporate greed, but also by self-destructive behavioral patterns?


If the government is serious about tackling our nation's health problems, then it should address food's role in the looming crisis.


To Congress' credit, proposed reforms emphasize increased prevention. But if socioeconomic incentives to consume harmful food persist, unhealthy patient behavior will prevail at monstrous cost to all of us.


<P extended="true">The affordability of unhealthy food is at the congested heart of the matter. According to TIME magazine, the largesse of taxpayers enables McDonald's to offer a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for under $5. Our tax dollars underwrite Agriculture Department subsidies to corn farmers.

Cheap, abundant corn enables mass production of economical, aggressively marketed beef and pork. The corn syrup that sweetens soft drinks and candy oozes from the same source. That's why it's so cheap to be fat and -- comparatively -- so expensive to be thin.

In response, a comprehensive preventive health strategy should:


• Shift subsidies away from corn toward the production of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as organic farming, so healthier, more natural foods become as accessible as Happy Meals.


<P extended="true">• Tax fast food, soft drinks, and packaged foods high in processed fats and sugars to decrease demand for unhealthy food. A study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine recommends a tax on "sugar-sweetened beverages," projecting that for every 10 percent rise in price, consumption of soft drinks would decline a corresponding 8 to 10 percent, leading to weight loss and reduced health risks.
<P extended="true">• Regulate youth nutrition marketing, preventing paradoxes like the teaming of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" -- despite its well-intentioned message -- with Burger King for a promotion heavily advertised on children's TV.

While some will argue that more taxes and regulations are the last things we need and that the government has no place telling people what to consume, precedent exists for both.


<P extended="true">We already tax and regulate other harmful products -- like tobacco and alcohol -- because it's common sense to dissuade individuals from nasty habits that cost our entire society. Plus, tax proceeds would help underwrite health reforms and preventive education.

And since the government's current subsidy system enabled our transformation into an obese nation in the first place, why shouldn't the government implement a corrective course of action encouraging families onto a healthier track?


I hate to spoil the movie, but in the end, the endangered town didn't solve its problems by building more hospitals and paying doctors and insurance companies to treat and cover those who overate or were flattened by mammoth meatballs. Instead, the townspeople simply destroyed the machine drowning them in supersized food.


Likewise, Congress must rage against the machines not only of the health care industry tasked with healing us, but also of the food industry making us sick.


Drawing inspiration at the movies, they might even find that in the dark sanctum of the theater, it's easier to reach across the aisle, hold hands, and craft a happy ending that leaves America clamoring for a sequel.

Oct 5, 2009 2:06 pm

Outside of a restaurant tax, I don't know how they could do it.

Oct 5, 2009 3:28 pm

I have a solution. Allow price discrimination. Healthcare costs on the basis of your body fat %. You can get your premiums lower if you are on a health plan that is measurable.



People who are in good shape and healthy pay very low premiums. People who are fat, pay very high premiums. Also, you only qualify for low co-insurance based on your health.



It then becomes cost-prohibitive to eat crap. What will happen? Cost of overall health care will come down. Fat people will die or get skinny. Or extremely wealthy.

Oct 5, 2009 3:47 pm

At my previous employer, they raised the costs of prescriptions - and a coworker of mine raised holy hell to the head of benefits - because her heart medicine became "crazy" (her words) expensive.

 
Of course head of benefits had some friendly retort that amounted to nothing.  Did my coworker live on the street because of this injustice?  No.  She joined weight watchers, and literally in a short amount of time (seems like less than 3 months), her doctor took her off of the meds because of her substantial change in health (for the better).
 
Ofourse - that isn't the best example to use because prescription drugs that are necessary and are not the result of lifestyle "choices" became expensive as well.  But I think it works for your point.
Oct 5, 2009 3:50 pm
Moraen:

I have a solution. Allow price discrimination. Healthcare costs on the basis of your body fat %. You can get your premiums lower if you are on a health plan that is measurable.

People who are in good shape and healthy pay very low premiums. People who are fat, pay very high premiums. Also, you only qualify for low co-insurance based on your health.

It then becomes cost-prohibitive to eat crap. What will happen? Cost of overall health care will come down. Fat people will die or get skinny. Or extremely wealthy.

 
I think you have a valid point - however - like everything else that idea would be prone to abuse.
Oct 5, 2009 4:28 pm

"We already tax and regulate other harmful products -- like tobacco and alcohol -- because it's common sense to dissuade individuals from nasty habits that cost our entire society."




 
Do you guys believe this crap?  We tax it because we can.  My running shoes are also taxed.
 
Army, drink a little more booze and the fat chicks won't look so bad.
 
Do we really think that the government is capable of getting us healthy?  Congress isn't made up of healthy people. 
Oct 5, 2009 4:45 pm

I would agree with the issue of corn subsidies.  There is no good reason to subsidize corn, except that the lobby is too powerful.  If they subsidized tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli, don't you think there might be a shift in "tastes"?  You ever notice how freakin fat poor people are?  I don't mean that as an insult.  It's more of an insult to people with money.  We criticize fat people, but the only food they can afford has either been fed with corn (Big Macs), or contains nasty corn by-products (candy, soda, and crappy snackfood).  Think about it, nearly every cheap fast food or junk food can be traced back to corn in some form.

Oct 5, 2009 4:52 pm
B24:

I would agree with the issue of corn subsidies.  There is no good reason to subsidize corn, except that the lobby is too powerful.  If they subsidized tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli, don't you think there might be a shift in "tastes"?  You ever notice how freakin fat poor people are?  I don't mean that as an insult.  It's more of an insult to people with money.  We criticize fat people, but the only food they can afford has either been fed with corn (Big Macs), or contains nasty corn by-products (candy, soda, and crappy snackfood).  Think about it, nearly every cheap fast food or junk food can be traced back to corn in some form.

 
And that's where I was going with this B24.  I grew up in the innercity and the cheapest foods are the ones that have the worst ingredients in them.  You can't find anything without High Fructose Corn Syrup these days.  I know personally that I have seen low income families just give their young kids chips and soda for dinner because it's cheaper than buying organic vegetables and fruits. 
 
But then it goes back to whether the government is capable of doing that, which I'm highly skeptical because the govt can't get anything right.  But if subsidies did change or other products get taxed higher like corn, like how B24 mentions, would that have an effect? I stand corrected because the one thing the govt can do right is increase taxes.   
Oct 5, 2009 5:07 pm

Actually, it WOULD make changes.  Think about it.  If you eliminated the corn subsidy (making corn-fed animals and corn by-products more expensive), and moved those subsidies to, say, fruit and vegetables, though it would take years.....decades even.....there would be a fundamental shift in eating habits.

 
I believe there was good intentions behind the corn subsidy - corn is the raw material of many good foods as well - but people didn't anticipate how BAD the "corn effect" would be.  Good grief, most junk foods use corn syrup instead of plain-old refined white sugar.  Never thought we would see the day when we would wish for refined sugar in our junk foods.  And what's the primary cost of cattle?  CATTLE FFED.  Not that beef is all bad, but most of it ends up in Big Macs and Taco del Grande's.  Sh!t, even I can't pass up the 2 McDoubles for 2 bucks.  Geez, I'm making myself hungry now.
Oct 5, 2009 5:45 pm
B24:

I would agree with the issue of corn subsidies.  There is no good reason to subsidize corn, except that the lobby is too powerful.  If they subsidized tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli, don't you think there might be a shift in "tastes"?  You ever notice how freakin fat poor people are?  I don't mean that as an insult.  It's more of an insult to people with money.  We criticize fat people, but the only food they can afford has either been fed with corn (Big Macs), or contains nasty corn by-products (candy, soda, and crappy snackfood).  Think about it, nearly every cheap fast food or junk food can be traced back to corn in some form.




 
So much of this is "the law of unintended consequences".  I think that it's pretty similar to Newton's, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
 
If we subsidize tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli, there will be some negative consequences.  I don't know what they will be, but I guarantee that they will exist. 
 
Are those "freakin fat poor people" fat because they are poor?  I think that it's more likely that they are fat for the same reason that they are poor.  They are lazy and unmotivated and not addicted to drugs.  If they weren't lazy, they probably wouldn't be fat.  If they were motivated, they probably wouldn't be fat.  If they were drug addicts, they wouldn't be fat.
 
By the way, fast food isn't cheap.  A family of four can probably have a healthy dinner for the cost of a typical extra value meal.
Oct 5, 2009 6:03 pm
anonymous:
B24:

I would agree with the issue of corn subsidies.  There is no good reason to subsidize corn, except that the lobby is too powerful.  If they subsidized tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli, don't you think there might be a shift in "tastes"?  You ever notice how freakin fat poor people are?  I don't mean that as an insult.  It's more of an insult to people with money.  We criticize fat people, but the only food they can afford has either been fed with corn (Big Macs), or contains nasty corn by-products (candy, soda, and crappy snackfood).  Think about it, nearly every cheap fast food or junk food can be traced back to corn in some form.




 
So much of this is "the law of unintended consequences".  I think that it's pretty similar to Newton's, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
 
If we subsidize tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli, there will be some negative consequences.  I don't know what they will be, but I guarantee that they will exist. 
 
Are those "freakin fat poor people" fat because they are poor?  I think that it's more likely that they are fat for the same reason that they are poor.  They are lazy and unmotivated and not addicted to drugs.  If they weren't lazy, they probably wouldn't be fat.  If they were motivated, they probably wouldn't be fat.  If they were drug addicts, they wouldn't be fat.
 
By the way, fast food isn't cheap.  A family of four can probably have a healthy dinner for the cost of a typical extra value meal.
 
I agree with the majority of your post except the reasons that people are poor.  My parents legally immigrated here before I was born and we were poor for a long time.  I can assure you that my parents were not lazy and unmotivated.  They worked 7 days a week and did the best they could to give us the life they didn't have.  Now, my parents own their own home and are comfortable in their lives right now.  Nothing extravagant but modest enough for them. 
Oct 5, 2009 6:48 pm

Army, people who aren't lazy don't stay poor.  Your parents are prime examples of that. 




 
I was trying to make the point about people who are both fat and poor.  People who are both tend to be lazy.  One can easily be one or the other and not be lazy.
Oct 5, 2009 6:53 pm

Maybe if the fat and lazy drug addicts switch their "drug of choice" to cocaine....they at least won't be fat anymore!

Oct 5, 2009 7:13 pm

Once again, I submit that the free markets will work in this case if you allow price discrimination. People will get skinny or they will die.



Solves the healthcare debate. Thankyouverymuch President Obama, Senator Reid and Congressperson Pelosi. Quit feeding the fat people!



Like Army, my parents were fairly poor. My Mom didn't work after my brother was born, and my Dad was an E4 in the Army (in the seventies that was like $400/month - I'm not even kidding). We NEVER ate out. Unless my grandparents came to visit. But we managed to eat steaks every now and then too. My mother clipped coupons and bought things on sale.



We weren't fat, but we were well fed. We also played for hours. We usually begged our parents to stay out. Kids now do nothing but play video games and act like exercise is the Debil! Don't get me wrong, I love some Xbox, but I'm an adult.



I'm telling you, if I thought my insurance premium might go up if I decide to take a couple of weeks off from working out, you better believe I'll be in the gym. Your premiums should be $10 a month if you are less than 8% body fat.



Tell me you wouldn't get there quick.

Oct 5, 2009 7:57 pm

How about if the government provides every legal American with $600/month for food and imposes a $0.01 per calorie food tax. (note: 2,000 calories X 30 days X $0.01 = $600)

There would be strong motivation for most of the country to eat responsibly and we can cash out from the tourists and illegal immigrants. Win, win, win win, win!

Oct 5, 2009 7:59 pm
[email protected]:

How about if the government provides every legal American with $600/month for food and imposes a $0.01 per calorie food tax. (note: 2,000 calories X 30 days X $0.01 = $600)There would be strong motivation for most of the country to eat responsibly and we can cash out from the tourists and illegal immigrants. Win, win, win win, win!





Because it's a tax, and poor people already don't pay taxes. They won't have to pay that one either. Plus, I"m not sure you could track that.



Let the evil insurance companies do it.

Oct 5, 2009 8:17 pm

I was thinking it could be the same as a sales tax. Poor people have to pay that.

Oct 5, 2009 8:38 pm
[email protected]:

I was thinking it could be the same as a sales tax. Poor people have to pay that.





Sort of unfair. People HAVE to eat. They don't HAVE to have TVs.

Oct 5, 2009 9:11 pm
Moraen:
[email protected]:

I was thinking it could be the same as a sales tax. Poor people have to pay that.





Sort of unfair. People HAVE to eat. They don't HAVE to have TVs.



I think you missed my point. If you eat 2,000 calories of food a day, you break even...if you eat 4,000 calories per day, you will pay an extra $600/month in food tax.

Anyway, it's my idea but already, I don't like it.



Oct 5, 2009 9:18 pm
[email protected]:

How about if the government provides every legal American with $600/month for food and imposes a $0.01 per calorie food tax. (note: 2,000 calories X 30 days X $0.01 = $600)

There would be strong motivation for most of the country to eat responsibly and we can cash out from the tourists and illegal immigrants. Win, win, win win, win!


How about if the government stays out of our stomach?  People with big appetites are supposed to financially support those with small appetites?
 
There's nothing about eating less calories that is responsible.  Calories aren't bad.  They are good.  We can't live without them.
 
Let's just have the government wake everybody up at 5:00 A.M. to go out for a hard 2 mile run.  Nobody who wakes up early to go for a hard run is fat.