Sunday, July 24, 2011

Health Reform: If It’s Fattening, Tax It! A SAD (Standard American Diet)Tale

What will it take to get Americans to change our eating habits? The need is indisputable, since heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet. (Yes, it’s SAD).

Mark Bittman, Food Columnist, “Bad Food? Tax It!” Sunday Review, New York Times, July 24, 2011

If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)

July 24, 2011 - According to Americans for Tax Reform, the new health care law will raise taxes for working Americans by over $500 billion. This is over and above proposed increased marginal tax rates on the “rich,” sometimes called the “fat cats,” or higher taxes when Bush tax cuts expire.

It also does not include raising taxes on “bad food” – sugar-laden soft drinks, junk foods, potato chips, French fries, animal products, processed foods rich in carbohydrates or fats, and restaurant meals.

Increase Taxes, Decrease Consumption

In his New York Times piece, Mark Bittman argues a 20% increase in taxes on sugary drinks could result in a 20% decrease in consumption, which in the next decade would prevent 1.5 million Americans from becoming obese and decrease the number of cases of diabetes by 400,000, saving the U.S. Government $30 billion.

Look at cigarettes for a parallel, says Bittman. Taxes on cigarettes , which have raised costs per pack to over $4.20, have decreased cigarette smoking from 130 packs per person per year in 1970 to 60 packs per person today. Smoking, in short, is a mirror for eating. Tax either, and bad habits will decline.

With a mere $13.2 billion in federal tax revenues for bad food, we could cover 8% of the expected 2012 $166.2 billion bill for obesity in the U.S. Then we could turn around and subsidize vegetables and grains, say at 50 cents a pound, and cause the consumption of healthy foods to go up.

A Little Tax Increase Is a Difficult Thing

What has prevented taxes on bad food from taking place ?

• Americans’ aversion to higher taxes, the crux of the current debate on raising the debt limit.

• The American fast food industry, which spent more than $4 billion on marketing in 2009.

• The American public, who resist further intrusion into their personal habits by Big Government.

People become rebellious, cranky, and downright death-and-health-denying-and- defying when they learn that almost everything that tastes good or gives pleasure is fattening, addictive, immoral, illegal, oncogenic, diabetes-inducing, or verboten.

We resist being told to eat our broccoli, or shun our carbs, fats, sweets, and meats, even when we know, chronic or lifestyle diseases now kill more people than communicable diseases.

Needed: A Fat Chat

It’s going to take a few decades and a national educational chat to reverse the trend towards obesity.

As Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland,

“Wait a bit,” the Oyster said,
“Before we have our chat,
For all of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat.”

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