The Case for Fat Taxes
This story just keeps on
giving, focusing as it does on the dispute over whether or not high-calorie
food should be taxed. Basically, the argument focuses on how to make people
take responsibility for what they eat and whether or not hitting their wallets
would make them change their habits.
The latest indication that price influences
purchase comes from Dr. Janneke Giesen’s
research team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who found participants
"chose fewer calories when there were higher taxes on higher-calorie foods,"
according to a report in Food Navigator. Conducted with 178 American
college students on three occasions, taxes up to 50 percent were gradually
added to prices. Only half of the participants were given details of the calories.
Results revealed that participants whose choices were already based on low-calorie
items were less likely to be influenced by price.
According to Reuters, "Only
students who did not respond to the price increases were those who were already
watching their diets and were given calorie information. They ate fewer calories
than their peers without any food tax, and showed little change in their eating
when taxes were added."
Other early research indicates that calorie details
on menus and labels are not necessarily changing eating habits and that a combination
of information and taxation "may not be as effective as taxation alone." The
study suggested that "a food tax of at least 25 percent ‘makes
nearly everyone buy fewer calories.’"
Meanwhile Denmark, which
has imposed tax, is showing "signs that obesity
among younger children is actually falling for the first time in 60 years"
although adult obesity levels are still rising, according to a BBC report.
Charlotte Kira Kimby, of the Danish Heart Foundation, insists the tax means
"the state going in and balancing price because it is cheap to produce food
with a high content of sugar, fat and salt."
In Britain, taxes have apparently
been ruled out by the current health secretary who believes "Nudges are
very important. Tax is not a nudge, tax is a shove."
[Author’s commentary] Perhaps
unsurprisingly, recommendations included additional research into the most
viable tax rates. Insufficient research supporting junk food taxes is cited
by industry groups preparing to resist action. They also assert that such taxes
will unduly burden low-income families.
- Taxes could spur lower calorie choices, study finds – Food
- Food tax could trim some people’s calorie intake – Reuters Health/MSNBC.COM
- Should the UK tax junk food? – BBC
Discussion Questions: Is it time to reconsider taxing high-calorie foods? Are such taxes effective in addressing the public health issues associated with eating excessive amounts of high-calorie foods?