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The Fat Tax - A Way to a Healthier America or a Poorer One?

The Fat Tax - A Way to a Healthier America or a Poorer One?

The idea of the ‘fat tax’ has been batted around quite a bit in the last decade. Rising obesity rates, a continuing prevalence of lifestyle diseases and since roughly the beginning of 2009, recessionary conditions, have all come together to bring a new round of talks on the possibility of a ‘fat tax’.

The state of New York alone has reported a whopping $7.6 billion in obesity-related medical bills, which are largely covered by tax payers. It is therefore no surprise that NY Governor, David Patterson is gung ho on including a ‘fat tax’ in the 2010 budget.

The soft drink industry is being especially targeted. The sugary beverages are being lumped together with cigarettes and alcohol, a connection that the American Beverage Association is lobbying heavily against.

The tax proposed for New York would include all beverages that “contain more than ten calories per eight ounces, such as soda, sports drinks, ‘energy’ drinks, colas, fruit or vegetable drinks containing less than 70% natural fruit or vegetable juice, and bottled coffee or tea”. This translates into a price increase of roughly a penny per ounce for each bottled beverage.

While some (especially health specialists and law-makers) are stoutly in favor of the proposed fat tax, others are strongly opposed. Those in favor argue that the tax can help to reduce the public cost health care while improving the lives of millions of Americans who are already obese or are at the risk of becoming obese. Those who are against, point to the failure of the ‘sin tax’ on alcohol and cigarettes. They say that not only have these taxes failed to stop smokers from lighting up and drinkers from imbibing, but they have made those who choose to indulge poorer and the government more invasive.

A study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine seems to support the opinions of those in favor of the fat tax. Kiyah J. Duffey, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues reviewed the dietary habits of 5,115 young adults, age 18 to 30, starting in 1985 to 1986 and continuing through 2005 to 2006. The aim was to determine if there is a relationship between the price of fatty foods and drinks to the caloric intake and hence the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the persons involved.

The study concluded that “national, state or local policies to alter the price of less healthful foods and beverages may be one possible mechanism for steering U.S. adults toward a more healthful diet”.

From all appearances, a fat tax may well be on the way and consumers may be left with the choice of being unhealthy or poor.


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